On the corner of Ida B. Wells and Dearborn lives the image of a woman in a yellow hard hat against a vibrant blue background with a message that reads “all roads lead back to the Loop.” That public art mural, curated by Chicago artist Dwight White II, honors essential workers during the pandemic. It’s an example of White’s signature style.
White uses art to pay homage to everyday human experiences. This can be seen in the murals he creates across Chicago and the programming he organizes to uplift creatives of color.
Over the summer the “Houston raised and Chicago made” artist completed his latest mural installation at the Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development’s (BUILD) newest community hub in Austin and also organized his summer art experience, “Something I Can Feel (SICF),” that popped-up in July at The Shops at North Bridge on Michigan Avenue.
“It had been a trying process, but a beautiful one as well,” said White of balancing both endeavors. “This is my largest mural to date and this was the biggest SICF. The production of it all took a village and I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a great team.”
Being a part of a team is second nature to White, a former college athlete who found himself pivoting after sustaining an injury while playing football at Northwestern University during his junior year. With sports out of the picture, he immersed himself in his studies and ultimately earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications.
But as White entered the workforce and climbed the corporate ladder, the urge to express himself on canvas tugged at him. Instead of extinguishing that artistic flame, White allowed himself space for expression, using oil and acrylic based paint to create art that primarily centers Black people as his subjects. With a mission to showcase nuanced Black behavior, White’s work showcases the multitudes of Black humanity.
As a self-taught artist, White said that creating in Chicago has brought an energy to his art that he hasn’t experienced elsewhere. He’d always had an appreciation for art but it wasn’t until his junior year of college when he began to be intentional about putting paint to canvas.
“The art landscape in Chicago, specifically for Black artists, is so special. There’s a lot of young creators across disciplines really fueling the scene right now,” White, 30, said. “The art community in Chicago feels like a family and people of all backgrounds are engaging with the artists here.”
For White, holding pop-up exhibits and hosting programming is a grassroots way to create impact in a community. Though he often collaborates with esteemed art institutions and galleries in the city, White doesn’t feel “imposter syndrome” when it comes to calling himself an artist and being a creative thought leader on the art scene in the city.
“Something special is happening here where people outside of the art community are engaging with artists and thinking of unique ways to work together,” White said. “I didn’t have the privilege of understanding how the art world moves. I just navigated it in a way that I saw fit. But that’s allowed me to connect with a lot of people.”
White has partnered with trumpeter Sam Thousand and cello player Ayanna Williams (known as Yanna Cello) to not only celebrate and highlight local talent, but to bring a different element into the viewer’s experience.
“I’m moved by sound – I think most of us are – and it brings a whole different dynamic and experience to everything. I wanted to feature live music in the exhibit to heighten everyone’s senses on a deeper level,” White said.
His corporate background comes in handy. White has partnered with brands such as Lululemon and The Healing. Creative collaboration has been a common theme in his life since his corporate days and he often turns to his marketing and business-relationship building skills to help elevate not only his work, but the work of other artists as well. At the SICF pop-up gallery, White displayed his own works as well as giving prime wall space to nearly 20 artists of color such as Raspy Rivera, Cedric A. Thurman, Khleo Morris and Addison Wright.
“I like to showcase what I call the breath of creativity. I want to highlight and celebrate locally grown and sourced talent,” White said. “I get to build with them and they get to eat off their own art and that feels really good, too.”
Samantha Callender is a digital reporting fellow for WBEZ. Follow her across socials @OnYourCallender.