Parade of Hearts

A rendering by lead artist Damon Reed of a possible artwork in the Parade of Hearts.

After spending years leading collaborative art projects in public schools that heal and restore youth exposed to trauma, The Love, Unity, and Values (LUV) Institute will expand its reach this summer with the Parade of Hearts, a public art installation that hopes to “transform trauma into love” in ten South Side neighborhoods, including Hyde Park and Kenwood. 

Restorative justice is at the core of the Kenwood-based nonprofit’s work, said LUV Institute Executive Director Cosette Nazon-Wilburn. For her, that means a set of practices designed to heal through the power of listening. In previous programming, like holiday wreath-making by at-risk youth, combining those practices with art has transformed youth, influencing their values and choices. 

In Nazon-Wilburn’s experience, art is unique in that it visually inspires people. In the school setting, it has changed the physical appearance of a room and provided a place of comfort. Youth have the opportunity to see images of themselves and draw connections. They’re inspired by what they see, helping them develop a better self-image. 

Now, the plan is to expand that impact while using artistic expression to transform trauma from the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest and violence in the city. 

On August 26, LUV Institute will take 10, five-foot fiberglass white hearts — and a lot of love — to Chatham, Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park and Woodlawn. Ten local artists will collaborate with community members, leaders and neighbors to create a design that’s unique to each neighborhood. 

“What’s unique about this project is that each community has a heart ambassador,” Nazon-Wilburn said. “The heart ambassador gathers community members and the community and does a courageous conversation using restorative practices to heal and to envision a new normal, and that artistic expression ends up on a heart.” 

While community conversations are set to start the week of August 2, many heart ambassadors have a goal of fundraising in hopes of facilitating intentional programming around the heart in the future. 

My Block My Hood My City, Organic Oneness, Restored Hope, New Community Outreach, SkyART, Youth Chicago Woodlawn and Future Ties have already signed on as heart ambassadors. The ambassador for Hyde Park is Restored Hope and for Kenwood it’s New Community Outreach. Their role encompasses partnering with trained circle keepers — leaders of restorative conversations — in gathering local community members to engage in a conversation that will serve as inspiration for the design of the heart. 

LUV Institute will continue to fundraise throughout the process. Once the hearts are installed, two new aspects will launch — the virtual treasure hunt using QR codes and a documentary that will inspire the community to choose love over hate. The virtual treasure hunt will help visitors learn more about and connect with the communities involved. The documentary will capture the impact of how “hearts transformed the community.” 

“Everyone in Chicago can come to visit the hearts and we’re hoping that as people come to visit, they’ll spend money in each of the communities,” Nazon-Wilburn said. “That’s a great way to revive the economy and bring tourism into communities that don’t normally get it.”  

LUV Institute’s goal is for the Parade of Hearts to generate excitement for the future. With more sponsors, the plan is to expand throughout the city with hearts on the West Side and throughout the entire South Side. 

“What we’re hoping is that as it grows over time organically, there’s a heart in every community and particularly in communities that are in need of revitalization,” Nazon-Wilburn said. “For me, the greatest reward is that maybe we could stop the violence, maybe we can actually create some peace.” 

“I believe the Parade of Hearts is simply a public art project with a purpose,” she said. “We need more partners to volunteer and to give their donations to help us so that we can continue to make this kind of impact. This can’t be just a one-off, this has to be a way in which we band together as a community in Chicago to transform.” 

For more information about how to get involved and how to participate in the community conversations, please visit the Parade of Hearts tab on LUV Institute’s website.

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