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A new mural series will showcase the contributions of African Americans in Champaign County

Barbara Suggs-Mason (left) and Angela Rivers (right) are the co-chairs of the Champaign County African American Heritage Trail. They will be part of a committee that will select the muralists for the project.

Two local groups are inviting artists to create murals honoring the lives and contributions of African Americans in the Champaign County area. 

The mural series project is a collaboration between 40 North — the Champaign County Arts Council — and the Champaign County African American Heritage Trail. Together, they will select the artists who will design and paint the murals.

The inspiration for the trail and the new mural project came from Angela Rivers, who designed and painted a mural on Park and Fifth Street in Champaign titled, “A Pictorial History of African Americans in Champaign County.” The mural showcased the history of the African American experience from Africa to Champaign. 

Rivers, who now co-chairs the trail along with her cousin Barbara Suggs-Mason, said she took the opportunity to create the mural because she wanted to see her community represented. 

“For the majority of African Americans, you go home, do your job, go back home, live in the community and go to churches. Other than that, you’re considered to be pretty much invisible within the entire context of the whole community,” Rivers said. “So that was one of the reasons why I did the mural, to give that visibility, especially to my family.”

The goal of the new mural series is to make the trail a distributed museum where the landscape, buildings and artwork serve as exhibits that help educate local residents, said Tim Oravec, community development manager of Experience Champaign-Urbana.

The mission of the trail, he said, is to educate residents and visitors about the Black people and history that have shaped the area — and the murals will further the trail’s mission by making local Black history visible and accessible. 

“When people do realize this is part of a bigger project, they will hopefully find our website, find our other resources, have conversations with their neighbors — or their family or their community members — and learn about this history and learn about the incredible contributions of African Americans in Champaign-Urbana,” Oravec said. 

The organizers of the trail, which was formed in 2020, have been interested in creating a mural series for many years, Oravec said. But funding has been the main barrier. Now, the project is possible due to funding from the Experience Champaign-Urbana Foundation and a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, he said.

When selecting the artists who will create the murals, Rivers said she is looking for people who will create engaging murals that will spark conversations about African American history in the community. 

“When you are outside and looking at this work of art, you should be able to interact with it,” she said. “It’s supposed to kind of capture some of your senses.”

The murals will be painted in different locations throughout Champaign-Urbana and will be completed by the end of the year, she said.

Muralists who are interested should submit their proposals by March 15.

Illinois Student Newsroom

Illinois Student Newsroom

At the IPM Student Newsroom, journalism students from the U of I's College of Media work alongside professional journalists -- public radio reporters, editors and producers -- to produce multimedia stories on issues affecting east-central Illinois. Follow us on Instagram: @illinoisstudentnewsroom

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