Grantee Project: Rio de Bienvenida / River of Welcome

Artists: Cynthia Weiss + Delilah Salgado
Partners: Citlalli Trujillo + Rachel Havrelock, Freshwater Lab at UIC
Neighborhood: Canalport Riverwalk
Art Type: Metal & Mosaic Structure
Grant Amount: $70,000

Rio de Bienvenida Team

The project is designed for the Canalport Riverwalk Park, a five-acre green space located at the juncture of the South Branch of the Chicago River, the Sanitary and Ship Canal and Bubbly Creek. The public art project will be  composed of laser-cut metal and mosaics facing the water, and welcomes visitors, while bringing attention to the environmental racism and lack of green space in communities in this area. 

The riverwalk, in an underutilized park, helps connect several communities such as Pilsen, Little Village, McKinley Park, Archer Heights, Brighton Park, and Bridgeport. The lack of open space for recreation, along with riverfront development has plagued the neighborhoods for many years as it caters to industrial operations. 

The project includes a workshop where participants will be invited to reflect on water, the environment, and current environmental threats in their communities; a series of hands-on design and artmaking workshops to create components of the actual artwork such as images or panels using mosaics; and a celebration and activation event along the river once the artwork is completed.

“We will create designs that symbolize their hopes and visions for a future with cleaner air and water and create access to green space. We see this collaborative art process as an opportunity to engage community members in conversations and design discussions around how to make the park more welcoming and accessible, through this gateway art piece and beyond this project,” said Cynthia Weiss, the lead artist on the project.

Cynthia Weiss is an award-winning public artist and arts educator. She has been the Director of Education at Marwen, a youth arts organization, and Project AIM at Columbia College Chicago. She currently facilitates arts and literacy workshops in Chicago and Mexico with Habla: The Center for Language and Culture, Merida, Mexico. She received her MFA in Painting from the University of Illinois at Chicago and has exhibited work at Hyde Park Art Center, Woman Made Gallery, and the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art.

As a member of the Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG), Cynthia has designed and fabricated numerous large-scale, public mosaic projects throughout Chicago, transforming neglected spaces into local landmarks. She is inspired by community-based and collaborative practices that draw out the ideas and hopes of participants of all ages into the creation of elegant works of public art. Her work explores themes of ecosystems at risk, and the need for sanctuary and mutual aid in the human and natural world.

Delilah Salgado is a first generation Mexican-American multidisciplinary community-based artist and co-founder of “Mujeres Mutantes,” an all-women’s arts collective. She is a wife and mother of three currently living in McKinley Park with roots in Gage Park, Little Village, and Pilsen. She attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was a member of Synergy Crew, an all-female Hip Hop Collective, as well as a teaching artist at Pros Arts Studio in Pilsen for 10 years where she co-founded the “We Are Hip Hop” Festival.

Delilah has designed and created public art throughout Chicago, as well as in Panama. She is inspired by urban life and its subcultures, graffiti, Mexican folk art, mythology, flora and fauna, hip hop pedagogy, her community, and other artists. She uses art as a tool for, educating, healing, and empowering people, families, and neighborhoods. She is an affiliated artist with the Chicago Public Art Group and views public art as medicine for disenfranchised communities and a catalyst for healing. 

Citlalli Trujillo will serve as the community engagement manager for this project. She is currently a first-generation graduate student at the UIC School of Public Health. Through the Freshwater Lab, she has conducted community-based research on South Branch industrialization in order to highlight environmental racism, disparities, and public health issues. She currently lives in Pilsen, where her family has had roots for three generations.

This motivates her to push further in making a community wide impact that will improve the quality of life for all citizens of the city. She has worked on key projects such as the Backward River Festival in 2021, where she served as a community liaison to form alliances with related organizations and propose various outreach and engagement strategies. As an assistant program manager at IYAI+, Citlalli has led discussions on water policy, infrastructure, and urban flooding to engage under-represented youth.

Rachel Havrelock is the founder and director of the Freshwater Lab and a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. A childhood of swimming in the Great Lakes created an indissoluble bond with water. Since 2015, Dr. Havrelock has focused on Great Lakes research and teaching a new generation of water leaders. She believes that the Great Lakes watershed can survive and thrive amidst accelerated Climate Change, but that a series of necessary actions must occur now. Through collaboration, the Freshwater Lab has created both The Backward River and the Freshwater Stories digital platforms.