Broken Art Makes Urban Neighborhoods Whole

The Purpose

A little idea by an arts instructor in 2005 has evolved into a big movement in urban neighborhoods – and it all started right here, in Chicago.

In 2005, founder Kamelia Hristeva noticed local children needed – and deserved – a meaningful arts opportunity in a time when funding was being slashed.

That’s when her idea of the Green Star Movement started to flicker.

“It is kind of this idea of these budding artists; these youth that are very green and getting them to see themselves as bright stars in their own lives,” Marketing and Operations Director Erica Hawkinson explains the story behind the group’s name.

Over the past 11 years, these little green stars have been leaving their mark across urban canvases locally, nationally and even globally.

Green Star has worked with more than 6,000 students at projects in nearly 40 schools in the Chicago area. Photo courtesy of Green Star Movement.

Green Star has worked with more than 6,000 students at projects in nearly 40 schools in the Chicago area.

“We are doing 18 plus projects a year and we are serving thousands of students so we are thrilled with where we’ve come from and the future that we have that lies ahead of us,” says Hawkinson.

The Process

Since most of Green Star Movement’s work is outside in urban spaces like underpasses, parks and building facades, bricolage is their art of choice.

“We primarily use tile and mirror mosaic and that can be broken or organic shapes, it can be cut into geometric shapes plus we do sculptures and painted elements,” says Hawkinson.

Imported from Italy, the tile is built to weather any damage – from vandalism to severe temperature drops. Plus, the process is an easy art form for people of all ages and abilities.

“A lot of people think they can’t paint, but they can become successful and feel successful very quickly with mosaic,” Hawkinson explains. “It is kind of beautiful to see the spark that lights up in them and they think, ‘oh, I am pretty good at this.’”

The People

Green Star Movement often completes projects with three groups: elementary schools, teens and community members. At the elementary school level, the administration has a theme, but Green Star will turn to the students for the ideas.

“We work with the students how to represent the idea through symbols and designs and they all contribute ideas and then our project managers will work on a cohesive design,” says Hawkinson.

The non-profit connects with most of the teen volunteers through one of its major partners, Chicago’s After School Matters. The program gives teens the opportunities to learn skills that are useful in the job market, so the project carries more weight.

“It functions like a job for them,” explains Hawkinson. “They apply for it, it is competitive, they interview, it is treated like a job and they get paid a stipend.”

On the community level, designs are solicited from people in the neighborhood.

“We just complete a project in Woodlawn,” according to Hawkinson. “People wanted to highlight the historical aspect of the music and jazz in that community as well as bringing attention to its botanical garden.”

The tile is resilient to all elements – natural or manmade.

And they need the manpower. That recent project in Woodlawn was 150 feet long and 10 feet high. It took 5 staff members and groups of 30 volunteers 2 months to install.

“It’s all community drive, collaborative and intentional.”

The Places

From Kozminski Elementary School in Chicago’s South Side to the Metra Underpass in Edgebrook, Green Star Movement has spread some color to all corners of the city.

Now, they are taking this work around the world.

They did a project at an all abilities playground in Missoula, Montana last summer as well as an art exchange program in the summer of 2015 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

“We brought two high school students down there to work on a mural and we worked with community members and some other local artists,” recalls Hawkinson. “Then two of those teens/artists came back to Chicago and did a home stay and worked on a mural here.”

Green Star Movements is hoping to do more international projects in the future, especially since everyone can speak the language of art.

“We want to be able to continue to be doing work throughout the world that brings youth and community together and beautifies spaces that we all share.”

This is 2013 project at an elementary school’s learning garden in Bucktown.

The Possibilities

The sky’s the limit for Green Star Movement but, as with any non-profit, they need to be creative on raising money and controlling costs.

So the group just launched make-a-mosaic classes. They are 3-hours long and BYOB where people can pay a small fee to learn how to mosaic and even take a piece of their creation home.

“It’s a way for us to meet people, raise money for the programs, and to spread this love of mosaic,” says Hawkinson.

The non-profit is also prepping for its 4th annual fundraiser, Green Star Soiree, happening Friday, September 30th at Canvas Chicago in Wicker Park.

“There will be a mosaic station, live painting, acoustic music and a DIY silk screen station,” explains Hawkinson. “So people will watch the art happen and then we auction off those pieces.”

But beyond the classes and the parties, Green Star is really looking beyond and the possibilities are endless.

“We want to continue to do our work in Chicago and build upon our name recognition and programs here,” says Hawksinon. “But our goal in the next five years is to be able to do a project a year internationally, in an urban neighborhood that would benefit uniting the community through art.”

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