As one of the new school year’s three executive editors of The Evanstonian, Evanston Township High School’s student newspaper, Jessica Baum has a dandy story to pitch right off the bat.
Two students — one of them responding to anti-immigration messages that began appearing on viaducts last year, the other with a strong interest in public art — decided to explore creating murals as a way to convey their ideas.
They teamed up with other students, navigated their way through the tricky city approval process and helped produce a first-rate mural at Central Street and Green Bay Road that resonates with community values.
As one of the key players in the project, though, Baum has a minor obstacle to hurdle.
Editorial practice at the paper is such that, “We usually have a policy of not doing stuff when our staff members are in it.”
As would any conscientious editor, “I really have to figure out,’’ she said, “because I really want it in there.”
Baum conceived of a mural last summer in response to anti-immigration messages that appeared on the Central Street viaduct as well as other north Evanston viaducts.
“It was really awful. I knew it wasn’t what Evanston is,’’ she said. “We don’t believe in that kind of stuff.”
She shared her concerns with good friend Olivia Chandrasekhar, who has an interest in street art and the power of that medium to convey ideas.
“It’s kind of expression for the masses,’’ she said.
During the winter the two met with Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl to talk about the idea and get suggestions for carrying out the proposal. They made contact with the Youth Organizations Umbrella, which has a student group at ETHS.
One of the YOU workshops involves students “in the arts and exploring what it means to live in Evanston,” said Mark Augustine, a YOU adviser, connecting well with the students’ proposal.
Baum said she and Chandrasekhar also coordinated their efforts with the city’s Public Arts Committee and Jeff Cory, who staffs the committee, winning approval for the mural design.
“They were really flexible with us and wanted to help us,” Baum said, “and did a lot.’’
An official with the Union Pacific Railroad, which owns and leases out the railroad property to Metra, also was receptive, with the railroad even making a contribution to the project.
The mural has “Evanston” written in big block letters and a blue train running through the middle.
Emeric Mazibuko, youth development specialist at YOU, said the two students purposefully didn’t delve into their reasons for doing the project when they first approached YOU.
“They didn’t want to force the mural to go into any direction,’’ he said.
Over time, though, as students learned more about the project, some recalling the anti-immigration messages, “that made the kids even more interested in working on it,’’ he said.
Taking a break from work on Friday to look at the YOU students’ progress, Baum noted, “There was something wrong on this very wall, and now you’re painting something beautiful that all Evanston residents can be proud of, on this same space,” she said.
Baum and Chandrasekhar are looking for more projects to do under their program, which now has a title “Paint Evanston Beautiful.”
Baum said the hope is to get “different points of view from all over Evanston,” with the goal of capturing some of the richness of her diverse community.