Parade of Hearts Across Chicago

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By Zeki Salah
Chicago Peace Fellows Intern

2020 Chicago Peace Fellow Cosette Nazon-Wilburn unveiled ten community-created hearts that will be showcased across neighborhoods in Southside Chicago on September 8th. These five-foot tall fiberglass hearts form the “Parade of Hearts,” a community based initiative designed by the LUV Institute with support from the Chicago Peace Fellows Mutual Aid Collaborative.

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The hearts were collaboratively designed by peace circles in ten neighborhoods: Chatham, Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park, and Woodlawn. The peace circles provided an opportunity for the LUV Institute to partner with three other Chicago Peace Fellows: David Gonzalez, Michelle Day, and Jennifer Maddox.

In the peace circles, artists and community members came together and discussed how they would like to showcase their neighborhood’s “new normal” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent political tensions.

Ten hearts were showcased at the launch of the Parade of Hearts; each heart will be placed in a South Side community.

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Artists acted as community representatives, expressing communal visions of neighborhoods that are beautiful and resilient. One local artist that worked on the project was Damon Lamar Reed, who created hearts for two communities, Nichols Park and Douglas. The heart that he created with the Douglas community is centered around a theme of trust with a man covering a woman’s eyes at its center and a background of stitched patchwork. The patchwork of the heart is meant to evoke memories of mothers patching ripped clothes and making them stronger than they were before. Damon and the Douglas community see this heart as symbolic of their community’s resilience and ability to memorialize the past while creating a stronger community.

Through the parade of hearts, the LUV Institute hopes to revitalize South Side communities through introducing a large-scale public arts project. Cosette emphasizes the importance of bringing arts programs to communities that are often left out of public arts initiatives. The Parade of Hearts aims to act symbolically as an expression of love trumping all, but also to bring prosperity to the featured neighborhoods. She hopes that people will come to visit the hearts and bring tourism to neighborhoods of Chicago that don’t often receive it. The process of creating hearts was chronicled by a videographer who will release a documentary talking about the organizations involved in helping neighborhoods design their hearts as well as histories of the neighborhoods themselves. Next year, the LUV Institute will facilitate a digital treasure hunt around the Parade of Hearts, in which people can explore virtual histories of the hearts and their surrounding neighborhoods.

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The hearts have started many conversations about peacebuilding in Chicago and many people and institutions have reached out to Cosette, moved by the Parade of Hearts’ message that love can trump hate. For its launch, the Parade of Hearts raised $115,000, surpassing its goal.

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The LUV Institute intends to use this money as a seed for a larger community outreach program. Cosette envisions that soon, all 77 community areas in Chicago will be able to create hearts and that money raised through the parade can be used for restorative justice projects. In the future, she plans for the LUV Institute to partner with other local non-profits to launch similar events and initiatives that integrate the arts with community-building and trauma recovery.

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