Boarded-up businesses in Elgin display artwork in support of protests
Businesses boarded up out of fear of looting have been an eerie sight across the suburbs.
Now, much of downtown Elgin has been transformed by a grass-roots effort that uses the boards as a canvass for vibrant artwork remembering George Floyd and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
There have been daily protests or marches in Elgin since last weekend in the wake Floyd's death May 25 while he was in Minneapolis police custody.
Seven businesses in Elgin were looted from May 31 to June 2, none downtown.
Residents Paige Roeber and C.J. Brown, involved in an Elgin in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter protest Friday, sparked the artwork initiative with a call to businesses and by enlisting artists, art students and residents. Some businesses did their own artwork.
Property owners who chose to board up want to protect their investments, but that's not necessarily in contradiction with supporting the protesters, Roeber said. "We have had some amazing conversations with businesses," she said.
While some might choose to use the artwork as "protection" against looters, there's a lot of genuine expressions of solidarity, Brown said.
"We are trying to make change in our world and where we live," he said. "Our movement is strong, and for peace and for a real community."
The art supplies were donated by individuals and businesses including Ziegler's Ace Hardware; others such as Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger donated money for the artists, Roeber said.
Ula Borodzinska, owner of Martini Room on Chicago Street, donated paint and brushes stored in her basement.
"I love art," she said, "and those boards, they looked so sad and depressing."
The outside of her building now displays messages such as, "We (heart) BLM," which she fully endorses, she said.
Across the street, Jerry Newman, owner of Central Barber Shop on Chicago Street, said he's happy with the pink and orange hearts on the boards outside his shop.
"I don't like to make statements. I don't like politics," he said. "I'm more like, 'peace and love.'"
Elgin artist Joel Amore has been working on spray-painting "Black is Beautiful" outside Dream Food Hall on South Grove Avenue.
Several passersby joined to help with small sections, and he's not going to sign the work because it's not about him but the larger message, he said.
Jennifer Fukala, executive director of the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin, said that in her conversations with business owners, "the vast majority indicated they do feel very strongly in support of racial justice" and condemned Floyd's death.
The association postponed its farmers market, slated to start Friday, to June 12 to let the focus be on the Black Lives Matter protest. "Our market can wait. Action against racial injustice cannot," the association said in a statement.