Published: January 21, 2016

A Cultural Trail on Chicago's South Lakefront

Aasia Mohammad, Enviromental Social Scientist, Keller Science Action Center


Find public art in community spaces along the Burnham Wildlife Corridor nature trail.

A man stands smiling in front of an outdoor art installation, while several other people explore behind him.

North of the Margaret Burroughs Beach, a Caracol-inspired gathering space with a Mesoamerican hopscotch game is part of a new kind of trail in the Burnham Wildlife Corridor. This is one of five sites installed in by teams of artists and community-based organizations whose designs draw from both local ecology as well as the heritage of communities adjacent to the south lakefront.

Moving along the trail, just past the 31st Street Harbor, an intertwined monarch butterfly sculpture crowns a hill—a design mean to be circled with common milkweed plants. West of Lake Shore Drive on 31st Street, south on the trail, a scholar's rock sits in a grove of mature oak trees. Have a seat and imagine the sounds of traffic as waves from an ocean; urban nature at its best. On the west side of Lake Shore Drive across from Oakwood Beach, sculpted willow branches take organic shapes. The woodchip trail continues to a fallen tree that hugs a bird sculpture born from the Sankofa symbol, a soulful reflection on nature.


Drawing on rich connections from the natural world and cultural symbolism, Caracol (“snail” and “shell” in Spanish) represents the immigrant's desire to belong while maintaining the core of memory and identity. Snails perform a critical role in the food chain, breaking down plant matter and adding nutrients to the soil. Likewise, immigrants' economic and cultural contributions enrich and revitalize the host society.

Caracol's spiral-shaped structure suggests ongoing movement from the core to a widening exterior—from the familiar to the unknown. The installation includes a table that can function as a work or picnic table, and as a painting surface. The space includes a stage and a hopscotch game that uses Mesoamerican numbers.

Lead artists: Georgina Valverde, Diana SolisJose Terrazas

Non-profit partner: contratiempo in Pilsen preserves and highlights the cultural identity and contributions of the Spanish-speaking Latino population in the United States.

A group of people sit around a spiral shaped installation, watching three musicians perform on a small stage with Lake Michigan in the background.

La Ronda Parakata

This project is a circular sculpture inspired by the magic symbolism of the butterfly, harmony with nature, and migration. It is surrounded by a delicate sculptural ring or “ronda” of interlocking butterfly forms. The center of the space features native plants and cement blocks that are being repurposed as rustic seating.

Lead artists: Hector DuarteAlfonso “Piloto” Nieves

Non-profit partner: Casa Michoacán in Pilsen promotes cultural, social, and sporting activities between the Mexican and immigrant Michoacán community, with a transnational vision.

A group of people sitting in a circle on tree stumps in a park.

Set in Stone

This project is an interpretation of a traditional Chinese scholar’s rock, with a sculpture that emulates the magnificence felt while viewing these rocks. The scholar’s rock sculpture is placed at the center of a tranquil rock garden with hand-carved log benches for viewing and contemplation.

Lead artists: Andy BellomoAnna Murphy

Non-profit partner: Chinese American Museum of Chicago in Chinatown promotes the culture and history of Chinese Americans in the Midwest through exhibitions, education, and research.

A groups of people stand and sit around an interpretation of a traditional Chinese “scholar’s rock” that is placed at the center of a rock garden.

Sounding Bronzeville

This site includes several organic, amorphous sculptural forms that rise from the ground in different heights and shapes, covered with native plant material. Some of these forms serve as seating, and some have sound ports or nesting ports. These openings allow for visibility through the forms as well as opportunities for specific audial experiences between people. This piece commemorates 100 years of the Great Migration and remembers the strength and resilience of thousands of African Americans who made the journey from the South seeking better opportunities North.

Architects: Monica Chadha and Mike Newman; landscape architects Nilay Mistry and Nathan Wright; willow furniture maker and consultant Dave Chapman

Lead artists: Fo WilsonNorman Teague

Non-profit partner: Bronzeville Community Development Partnership focuses on information technology, heritage tourism, hospitality workforce development and training, preservation, and sustainability in Bronzeville.

Several people enjoy organic, amorphous sculptural forms that rise from the ground in different heights and shapes, covered with native plant material.

Sankofa for the Earth

This project features a Sankofa bird made from mixed-media and recycled materials. In Africa, a bird looking backwards over its tail represents the Sankofa symbol, which means “go back and fetch it.” It is an understanding that our past(s) holds important information to move us forward in life. There is a mosaic on the exterior of the bird and mural on the interior representing Bronzeville history. QR codes are integrated into the mural design to allow visitors with smartphones to access additional information about the images included in the mural, as well as information on Bronzeville, the Chicago Park District, and the Field Museum.

Lead artists: Arlene Turner Crawford,Dorian Sylvain , Raymond A. Thomas

Non-profit partner: South Side Community Art Center in Bronzeville preserves, conserves, and promotes the legacy and future of African American art and artists, while educating the community on the value of art and culture.

A mixed-media art installation stands in a park with a group of people gathered nearby.