Alice Street

Native Hyde Parker Desi Mundo will return to the neighborhood over the next few weeks to host a series of screenings for a recent documentary, “Alice Street,” in which he is featured. 

“Alice Street,” set in Oakland, California, explores the creation of a public mural in a rapidly gentrifying downtown neighborhood. 

Mundo, aka Sam Mulberry, is introduced at the very beginning of the film. “I’m an aerosol writer. I come from spray paint traditions of Chicago, and now I’m based here in Oakland,” he says. “When I came to Oakland, I saw a lot of the traditional murals, and I was intimidated. For a couple of years, I had just been painting my name in the neglected places around the city — the train tracks, abandoned warehouses.” 

In 2005, Mundo founded the Community Rejuvenation Project (CRP), through which he and other artists have painted more than 200 murals across Oakland and the rest of the Bay Area in the years since. Around 2014, Mundo and the Chilean painter Pancho Peskador decided to see if they could land a new project for the group: a high-profile mural in downtown Oakland. 

Oakland’s City Council suggested a location near the intersection of Alice Street and 14th Street, where a quartet of walls encircle a parking lot. The site is across from the Malonga Casquelourd Center, a longstanding fixture in the city’s community arts scene that is home to a number of different performing arts organizations, and near the Hotel Oakland, a senior living community where many Chinese immigrants live. 

Much of the first half of the documentary follows Mundo and Peskador as they draft the mural design and gather feedback from residents, attempting to create a work that reflects the history and diversity of one particular section of the city. (The pair connected with the film’s director, Spencer Wilkinson, when they asked for help filming interviews with residents during this phase of the project.) 

They also face problems — as real estate in downtown Oakland quickly appreciates in value, developers begin looking for opportunities on vacant property, including the parking lot where the mural is being painted. After the mural is completed, a real estate company announces that it has acquired the parking lot and plans to build multi-unit, market-rate housing on the site. 

Local residents, community organizations and members of the CRP fight to prevent the development, or at least extract concessions from the city in return for its construction. Mundo said he sees parallels between the kind of urban development covered in the film and the changing face of Hyde Park over the past several decades. 

“I think what we see in Hyde Park is very clearly not targeted for Hyde Parkers — it’s who the university and who these developers tied to them want to bring in,” he said. “Hyde Park is interesting, because it’s not necessarily a poor community, but it’s still like the power clearly lies in specific places.” 

Mundo himself attended Ray Elementary School and Kenwood Academy and became involved in the “writing” community — the term he prefers to describe his public art — on the South Side. His mentors included the writer, musician and educator LaVie Raven and Wyatt “Attica” Mitchell, who died in 2004 and is memorialized by a mural in the alley across from the Medici, 1327 East 57th St. 

The first mural Mundo helped paint in the neighborhood was in 1994, a portrait of Harold Washington on the side of Caffe Florian, 1450 E. 57th St., now home to B’Gabs Goodies. He has also painted a mural of jazz musician Willie Pickens that is still in place at Ray Elementary School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave. 

Other murals he painted — one in an alley on 53rd Street torn down to make way for Vue53, another couple in Metra underpasses at 47th and 56th streets that have since been painted over — are gone from the neighborhood. 

“At that time it mattered — where you came from mattered, and who taught you and having a lineage mattered. And to me it still does, you know,” said Mundo. “That’s all my formative years, who I wanted to be like, it came through that place, through those people. That’s what set me on this trajectory. I knew at the age of 16 that I was going to do this for the rest of my life.” 

“Alice Street” has spent much of the past year on the festival circuit, including an appearance at the Chicago Social Justice Film Festival last October. 

On its return to the city, the film’s first two screenings will be in Hyde Park — one during the Hyde Park Art Center’s Sunday open house, and the other at the Hyde Park Union Church. Another two will follow elsewhere on the South Side. 

The HPAC screening will be followed by a conversation with Mundo’s mentor Raven, while Mundo will speak with activist and former 5th Ward aldermanic candidate Gabriel Piemonte. He emphasized that the conversations will be focused on “people who are trying to hold on and preserve the legacies and the history of the culture.” 

“And particularly writing cultures are always under threat of erasure, that’s the whole situation that we’ve always dealt with,” he continued. “And that threat of erasure runs parallel to the erasure and homogenization of Black and brown and indigenous identity in America.” 

“Writing culture coming from inner city, primarily female, Black and brown youth, is a reflection of the resistance to the complete forgetting that these people are here …. I think that’s just a little bit of the backstory of what these conversations are about, because gentrification is also an erasure of what was there before, you know?” 

“Alice Street” will screen at the following dates and times:

Sunday, Dec. 5, 3:30 p.m. at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. 

Thursday, Dec. 9, 7 p.m., at the Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave. 

Friday, Dec. 10, 7 p.m., at the Chicago Hip-Hop Heritage Museum, 4505 S. Indiana Ave. 

Saturday, Dec. 11, 7 p.m., at the 1213 Cultural Center, 1213 W. 63rd St.

Editor

Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

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