Museums throughout the Chicago metropolitan area have begun an ambitious collaborative effort to flesh out the city’s art history beyond the well-known stories of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. At institutions large and small, 29 exhibitions on unsung artists, including Bill Walker, Yasuhiro Ishimoto and Ralph Arnold, are rolling out this year under the banner Art Design Chicago.
The initiative is led by the Chicago-based Terra Foundation for American Art. Since 2012, it has invested $6.5 million in 78 grants to encourage new scholarship on artists and designers working in Chicago and to promote the exhibitions and related publications and public programs.
“We were responding to what we heard from our institutions was an interest and need to present a broader story of what has been the necklace of Chicago art,” said Elizabeth Glassman, president and chief executive of the Terra Foundation. The grant opportunities allowed curators to propose projects many had longed to do but couldn’t because of budget constraints. The vast majority of shows in Art Design Chicago, Ms. Glassman said, would not have happened without the Terra funding.
Those include “Bill Walker: Urban Griot” on view through April 8 at the Hyde Park Art Center. It looks at this pioneering muralist who created the Wall of Respect in 1967 on Chicago’s South Side in collaboration with the Organization of Black American Culture. The wall, now demolished, spurred a community movement of artists on the South Side — and others nationwide — to express the hopes and fears of African-Americans through the mural art form.
Besides jump-starting the exhibition research, Terra put the Hyde Park Art Center in touch with the Chicago Public Art Group (co-founded by Mr. Walker, who died in 2011) that leads tours of street murals and community art sites.