Caffeine + community: Glenbrook South students create public art for coffee shop

Left-brain analytics. Right-brain creativity.

Glenbrook South High School's Public Art Collaborative used both to design and install a wall mural inside the Glenview Grind coffee shop.

The result: a chemical compound and a warm message.

  Glenbrook South High School senior Nathaniel Betts reacts as LED lights illuminate while he and other students create a mural at the Glenview Grind coffee shop in downtown Glenview. Joe Lewnard/

"We were discussing what sort of design we were going to put up and someone brought up the idea about doing a caffeine molecule since it's a coffee shop," said Ayesha Imran Sarwar, a senior member of the art club sponsored by Glenbrook South English teacher Scott Glass.

Sarwar and four other club members - Nathaniel Betts, Adan Flores, Anne Ladouceur and Julia Glass, who is Scott's niece - debuted their mixed-media mural Dec. 14 after closing time at the coffee shop at 1837 Glenview Road.

Twice as many club members contributed to the project, Glass said, but didn't attend the installation.

"The install went amazing," Grind owner Cathy Schiltz said. "The kids did a great job, I'm really happy with it."

Schiltz said she would keep it up on the wall "probably for at least a year."

Since 2019, the wall space has featured framed photos taken by Glenbrook South students, she said.

Schiltz intended to switch the display annually, but the COVID-19 pandemic made those considerations secondary.

"We've had the same pictures up there for a long time, so I'm excited to get something new," Schiltz said.

In May 2021, the Public Art Collaborative installed a banner along Hospital Drive, the street that runs between Glenbrook South and NorthShore Glenbrook Hospital to the north.

The mural was a large-scale "thank you" to the hospital and health care workers for their efforts during the pandemic, and an appreciation of the patients within.

The Glenview Grind installation had been in process for months, with input from people in Glenview's arts and business communities. It was inspired by the Glenview Connect process the village undertook in 2020-21.

  Glenbrook South High School junior Julia Glass, left, and seniors Ayesha Imran Sarwar and Nathaniel Betts create a mural at the Glenview Grind coffee shop in downtown Glenview. Joe Lewnard/

Gerry Brown, secretary of Friends of Downtown Glenview, said the Friends, the Glenview Art League and the Glenview History Center had jointly submitted a presentation to the board concerning the morale-boosting benefits of public art.

"As it turned out, Glenview Connect contained an endorsement of publicly facing, privately financed art," Brown said.

As will happen in a close-knit town, a seed of an idea grew organically.

Brown knew Schiltz was looking for a new attraction. The Art League's Deb Anderson knew Glass led a public art initiative. And in the spring, the four started throwing ideas around at the Glenview Grind.

Once concepts emerged, the students started meeting with Schiltz in the fall to discuss particulars.

"All the credit in this needs to go, first of all, to Cathy, who has an enormous amount of trust in the students, and to Scott Glass," Brown said. "His mentorship of this group is really skillful, he guides their creative process."

Glenbrook South High School Public Art Collaborative members, from left, Julia Glass, Anne Ladouceur, Ayesha Sarwar, Nathaniel Betts and Adan Flores debuted their new mural Dec. 14 at Glenview Grind. Courtesy of Cathy Schiltz

The mural - composed of black paper, cardboard and foam board, either hand-cut or sliced using the school's laser cutter - features the words, "brewing Love" inside the caffeine molecule, surrounded by lettering that spells the shop's name. Other words may be swapped in for different messages.

The pieces are fastened nearly an inch from the wall to allow for roughly 50 feet of colored LED lighting affixed by Velcro underneath the molecule shapes, Glass said.

"I'm a big STEM student. I just do this extracurricularly because it's fun. It's a nice outlet," said Nathaniel Betts, a senior collective member. "It's been fun to mix together the artistic side of it and the math stuff, like figuring out the measurements for each piece to make the angles right to make a pentagon."

Brown is hopeful this right-brain/left-brain project spurs other brains to take note.

"If you have an example of where residents and business owners and property owners can see the work, that will encourage others to think about what spaces they have where art by students or by professionals could be displayed and invigorate their environment," she said.

  Glenbrook South High School senior Ayesha Imran Sarwar and junior Julia Glass apply adhesive strips to the back of lettering for a mural at the Glenview Grind coffee shop in downtown Glenview. Joe Lewnard/

As a teacher, Glass said the project presented a challenge the art club's students had to navigate, and its completion brough great satisfaction.

The Public Art Collaborative was formed on the basis of taking art out of school and into public spaces. That mission also was accomplished.

"I just love that something that these kids have done will be in this community spot and is meant to be an anchor or to foster a community within that spot. It's just a positive community building message," Glass said.

Staff photographer Joe Lewnard contributed to this report.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.