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Artist Janel Young tries to make her colorful stamp on Chicago


Janel Young entered the Chicago art scene less than two years ago and at the time was busy producing public artworks that added color to communities.

Young, a Pittsburgh native, is at 808 S. Kedzie Ave. of the Safer Foundation, which includes U.S. Representative Danny K. Davis. He has painted a handful of interior and exterior murals in the Chicago area, from retail spaces to nonprofits, including the exterior of the community office building at ‘ image. The 30-foot-high mural pays homage to the legislator’s work to ensure that formerly imprisoned people have the resources they need to re-enter society. (The building will be renamed Davis as it is the main sponsor of the 2007 National Second Chance Act.)

Young, 31, has also designed digital illustrations for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, labels for a Black beer, and a coloring book. Its bright colors and geometric shapes have been recognized from New York City to Sydney, Australia, and a look at the expanding JY Originals portfolio shows the range of designs featured in the 2020 US Open tennis championship, from the Black history logo for Yahoo in 2021. . Young’s artwork has been so prolific in his hometown – asphalt murals, pandemic-inspired social distancing artwork, a 3D mural created with students, and an arts ballpark in the former Beltzhoover community – Pittsburgh named “Janel Young” on October 23, 2019. gave. Day.”

on it 2023-2024 Chicago Public Art prequalification list (A group of professional artists, artist teams, and nonprofit arts organizations that help select artists for public art and private commission opportunities with the Chicago Folk Art Program Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events). Young is also in the middle of completing a fellowship. Independent Sector – a think tank of creators and changemakers from different walks of life, hoping to empower communities.

As an artist and community leader, her mission is to inspire through creativity and play. We spoke with Young, a Peterson Park resident, about his plans to hit Chicago with his creativity. The following talk has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Chicago is known for its murals. What was it like to come to this new environment with so much history? Enthusiastic, nervous, scary?

JY: It was a mix of all of these. But most of all it is exciting. I was excited to come to another big city that is excited about public art. Coming from Pittsburgh, convincing people to make more public art was a bit more challenging. They’ve come a long way, but I was excited to be in an already established place. I was so excited when I moved here. I applied and was accepted for 2023-24, not only for opportunities to go out myself and find walls, but also to be part of the pre-reviewed list of public art in Chicago. Officially, I’m on that list that comes with more opportunities.

It was the perfect timing for me. I always think going to a new city can be a little daunting because you’re wondering how you’ll be welcomed and rebuilt, and you’re re-creating a name for yourself every time. But I think what’s really cool is that I have a portfolio that showcases my talents and I can have authentic conversations with people and that leads to authentic results.

Q: Have you always wanted to make art? Or did you try and it snowballed?

A: A little of both. They say your sight is 20/20. Growing up, I was very interested in painting, sketching and drawing. My mom never considered herself an artist, but she always said, ‘let’s make a scrapbook or anything with a bit of art and craft flair in it’. That was where I would release or have fun. Looking back, I see how that played a role in my journey. I went to creative and performing arts middle school. That’s when I really started painting more and formed a mural team, I was exposed to doing bigger work.

Artist Janel Young works on the site of the final mural of a marijuana dispensary to open in Oswego on July 20, 2023.

When it came to pursuing art after high school, I didn’t think much of pursuing art itself as a career. I studied business marketing and international studies at university. I got a job at a public relations agency in New York, worked as a digital strategist. I did a lot of creative things with digital and social content, but I wanted to be the one to implement creative ideas. Five years later I resigned and started volunteering at a mural company in New York. I was hired there and that started things up.

If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said, ‘Somehow I fell into it’. But if you look at it now… when kids are in first and second grade, they ask, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I have evidence that says I want to be an artist. But I don’t think I understand what that means or how it looked at the time.

Q: Is the plan to sweep across America and move westward to put a little Janel Young in all these cities?

A: The goal is to go where my purpose takes me. I have always loved to travel and be inspired. Wherever I can make a mark and impress the community with something beautiful, I’m happy to do so. I always tell people I go where the project is.

Q: What is your signature?

A: Bright colors. Really clean, crispy, clean lines. Most of my work is geometrically inspired. Many shapes and colors are the symbolism that goes into my shape and color. Many people know me for my color blending in my work.

Development coordinator Brittany Ward works alongside a mural by Janel Young at Embarc Chicago on August 3, 2023.

I think what stands out for me most of the time is how I like to instill the community aspect. I consider myself a community artist. Thus, I can take shapes, colors, patterns and transform the story I am trying to tell into something visual.

Q: You are an athletic person, how does this inform how you express your work of art to the world?

A: Short answer: It’s a mindset. Growing up, I played every sport, but throughout high school I really stuck to basketball and volleyball as the top two. He taught me a lot about how to be a part of a team and how to be a leader. How I wanted to act and exist in certain areas. I think all this is about my art and how I build a team, how to have this lateral leadership style – I can learn from you, you can learn from me. There was definitely a point in my young life where I said, ‘Yes, I can play professional basketball’ but I didn’t know I would only be 5′ 6 inches. So we have the awareness of OK to turn to, what’s the next dream? And figuring out how to do it. And having the determination and the discipline and the pride of practice and being really good at something. All of this plays a role in how I do my job and when it comes to more realistic things.

While I’m still working (at my job) in New York, I don’t know what makes me Google “how to paint a ballpark”. I just remember feeling ‘that’s what I have to do, stuff like that, not sit at this table’. And two years later I did a trial. As I drew the field, it made me understand how things should and should be, and how everything I had learned so far came together for my good at that moment. It’s really starting to get trendy to make these colorful courts, but as a player I’ve had the advantage of creating a design that doesn’t distract players from the game itself. He just improved what he did.

A mural at 2500 W. 63rd Street in Chicago by artist Janel Young on July 20, 2023.

Q: Do you feel compelled to go home and celebrate on Janel Young Day?

A: First year, I held a community day in Pittsburgh. I would love to do something for the fifth anniversary next year. But what I do every year at Janel Young Day is open applications. JY Original scholarship for ads. I give $1,000 to a young artist and they can use that money as they see fit. The legacy I want to leave is the only thing I want to continue.

Q: Is this strictly for Pittsburgh students?

A: No, nationwide. I’ve had a winner from Boston, Pittsburgh, and New York. I definitely want more Chicagoans to apply this year. The age range for the scholarship is 16 to 22. I would love to expand this at some point and be able to offer multiple scholarships for different age groups. Applications open on October 23, close on December 31 each year, and I announce the winners in January.



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