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WITNESSES
Chicago Avenue/ Ukrainian Village
Chicago, Illinois














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Project Site:
Streetscape/ 1800-1900 Chicago Avenue

Funded by:
The Illinois Arts Council
Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation
The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs/ NAAP

Community Architexts, in collaboration with neighborhood Ukrainian-American organizations, commemorated the 65th anniversary of The Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33. Witnesses, a public presentation of projected texts, took place at the corner of Leavitt Street and Chicago Avenue in historic Ukrainian Village, following a candlelight procession, which began at St. Volodymyr Church nearby.

Site and Objectives:
This program aimed to accomplish two things: 1) Raise greater public awareness of this little-known holocaust and 2) Address urban issues that concern ethnic subgroups within this evolving community. The public event engaged the active participation of the community and the transient vehicular flow on Chicago Avenue, a busy east-west thoroughfare.

This community event built upon an ongoing community outreach program that involved (primarily) Latino public school students interviewing elderly Ukrainian survivors in the neighborhood about their memories and stories of The Ukrainian Famine. The initial outcome of this program was a 38-page booklet produced by students and distributed in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood. The follow-up public event articulated changing community dynamics, as the historic Ukrainian Village neighborhood has seen its borders and ethnic Ukrainian population shrink in the face of the recent influx of other (primarily Latino) ethnic groups and gentrification.

This event asserted the Ukrainian Village's historic identity by acknowledging and communicating the history of The Famine. It also addressed some of the differences and common ground that exist between these two ethnic groups, the established Ukrainian-Americans and the newer Latino generation, whose members were engaged in our community outreach efforts.

Public Art Program:
This multi-disciplinary site activation involved the projection of large-scale texts from/ onto two buildings which face each other across Chicago Avenue--Ann's (Ukrainian) Bakery and Tuman's Alcohol Abuse Center. These dynamic, temporal billboards suggested a dialogue between factions in the community--elderly survivors of the 1932-33 Ukrainian Famine (Us) and outsiders such as Soviet officials and recent Latino immigrants (Them) represented by the voices of Soviet propaganda and local Chicago schoolchildren.

On the night of the site activation, traffic was disrupted on busy Chicago Avenue, to draw attention to this historic tragedy. One block of Chicago Avenue was blocked off and the adjacent streetlights were turned off (negotiated with the City), to create a place where a hushed candlelight vigil could occur and the audience of 400 could read the unfolding text projections on both buildings.

This site work explored the commodification of land, crops, labor, real estate, and history itself, while drawing parallels between the historic genocide and the tenacious survival of children in a gritty urban neighborhood. The texts incorporated into this site activation were created and collected during outreach workshops conducted at the Ukrainian Cultural Center and Ellen Mitchell Public School.