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“Changing the Urban Canvas”: Interview with Kamelia Hristeva

 Green Star Movement is a non-profit organization that strives to revitalize urban Chicago neighborhoods by teaching young people and community members to design and create public art.  Their large-scale mosaic murals can be spotted in over 40 locations across the city.  I had a conversation with founder and executive director Kamelia Hristeva to learn more about Green Star’s mission, goals, and hopes for the future.

Lydia Shepard (LS): How did Green Star Movement begin?  

Suder Montessori Magnet School, 2022 W. Washington Blvd

Kamelia Hristeva (KH): Green Star Movement’s creation in 2005 was sparked by a harsh realization that art education is not a mandatory part of the scholastic curriculum. Nina Hannoun and I decided to raise funds to do a mural at Independence Park, since the project turned out to be such a success we decided to do it again at Columbus Elementary, and gradually as the demand grew so did the organization. In the past eight years Green Star has successfully transformed over 40 interior and exterior public spaces including schools, shelters, community centers, non-profit organizations and public spaces. We are striving to fill the gaps in the educational system, by serving communities in underprivileged neighborhoods through arts based programming, helping to increase test scores, attentiveness, and social behavior.

Students working at Farragut Career Academy, 2345 S. Christiana Ave

LS: What do you think are some of the most important things to  be gained from creating public art?

KH: Programs like ours can revitalize and recharge neighborhoods, encouraging people to spend their free time positively engaging with the world around them and to make the most out of this crucial period of the day. By engaging youth to participate in our programs we help them realize ideas, transform their environment, and provide a unique opportunity to enact social change. At GSM, the surrounding neighborhood becomes the classroom, enlivening the environment just outside people’s backdoor, introducing them to community organizations, individuals and resources that can sustain a lifetime.

LS: Do you have a project that you are most proud of or excited about?  If so, why? 

KH: All our projects are very unique and exciting so it is hard to pick just one. But if I had to it would be our newest project, the Change your Urban Canvas Project, with its mission is to foster positive community engagement and revitalization through the creation of a site-specific Bricolage Mural, Reading Lounge, Learning Garden, and Community Kitchen.  The potential of change and revitalization that can happen in any given neighborhood is immense, which is why it is our priority to work the dis-invested neighborhoods of Chicago that have been overtaken by poverty, crime, gang violence, and deterioration (i.e. Humboldt Park, Little Village, North Lawndale, East Garfield Park, Austin and Englewood). While violent crime has increased overall in Chicago, it is in neighborhoods such as these where the rise in shootings and homicides has been particularly jarring.

LaSalle II Magnet School, 1148 N. Honore St.

LS: What is your favorite part? 

KH: My favorite part would have to be the installation process. Creating these pieces of art is a magical process that can expose people to new environments, experiences and ideas beyond their usual scope. Since participants do not have to have previous art experience it makes bricolage a very approachable and inclusive art form.

LS: What is your biggest hope for the future of Green Star Movement? 

KH: I hope that GSM continues to not only inspire and transform the blocks of Chicago, but also create international dialogue and inspire action that benefits the block, the country, and the globe.

Click here to see SIFC’s article about Green Star Movement.  

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