Big Mural on Campus: Lane Tech High School Adds to Art Collection

One Chicago public high school has a nationally recognized art collection. There are 67 murals at Lane Technical College Prep High School at Addison Street and Western Avenue. Some of the paintings date from the school's opening in 1908 at Sedgwick Avenue and Division Street. Others were added to the collection during the Great Depression and include murals from Chicago's World’s Fair.

These large historic works of art have now been joined by a contemporary work that is even bigger. “Chicago Tonight” visited Lane Tech to find out more.

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Phil Ponce: You wouldn’t know it from the outside, but inside, Lane Tech High School looks like an art museum. Murals line the halls above the student lockers. Large-scale scenes of industry and history speak to a progressive era of American art. At the end of one long corridor, a massive new mural comes into view. At its unveiling, the students who modeled for the work posed for pictures.

Damir Ara, vice principal at Lane Tech: All of the figures on the mural are current students. We really wanted to bring in something new. We had a large wall, which was blank. This is our auditorium behind me. So we wanted to bring all of the diversity of our students, and also the diversity of our curriculum, all in one picture.

Ponce: For a 68-foot-long painting, it is still just a small part of a larger renovation at the school centered on creativity and innovation.

Ara: We started this trend about two years ago when we started renovating some of the old shops that are on the first floor, so when we walk around you’ll see a lot of old classrooms. But one thing that we wanted to do for our students is make this less of a traditional school feel and more of a place where they come in and they want to be there for an extended amount of time. So we have a lot of students coming back.

Ponce: In January, we tracked the progress of the mural at an art studio in Humboldt Park.

Jeff Zimmerman, artist: My process always begins on a napkin. The old cliché: just start with sketches and little ideas and then the paper grows and gets bigger.

It evolves from beginning to end and finding the end becomes sort of an elusive challenge, you know? Am I really done? When am I done? The theme of the mural originally was, and is still, the arts. And that’s a very general term so you’ll find some drama – maybe drama class, and you’ll find visual work and music and theater and dance, all these things will be present but along with that it is, What is the high school experience all about? What does it mean to be going through these four formative years and what does the future hold for you and what are your dreams?

These are all students currently at the school but what’s important is it’s not about them. They’re actors, they’re just representing “high school kids” in quotes, so no one’s being called out for any academic reasons. These are just regular kids.

Basically I found myself sort of very impressed with the students over there. They’re very mature, good kids, you know. So I want to sort of try and emulate that and celebrate that and show them: You guys are a bunch of really outstanding individuals and I’m going to try to portray that in the mural.

Ponce: He calls his painting “Right Now.” And right now at Lane Tech, Jeff Zimmerman’s new work is the big mural on campus.

Ara: It’s a very, very popular piece. This is our main corridor so a lot of visitors come through here, which was another idea of where we should put this. And a lot of students, we have 4,000 students that come through here – they recognize their friends, and teachers recognize their students, so there’s a lot of talk about the mural. It’s truly a representation of our school, our students and staff and everything that goes on around Lane Tech all in one place.

Lane Technical High School is not open to the public, but they do schedule mural tours. Get more information on that and read more about the school's mural collection.

Note: This segment originally aired on "Chicago Tonight" on May 23.

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