(Editor’s note: The current episode of Curious City’s podcast includes the interview portion of this story about Freedom Wall. That interview begins at 4 minutes, 55 seconds. Also, we’re taking your suggestions about who should be included in a contemporary, digital Freedom Wall.)
If you ride the Brown Line or the Purple Line through Chicagos River North neighborhood, youve probably seen this list of names. Its on the side of a brick building on Huron Street, where the Nacional 27 restaurant is located. The black banner stretches 72 feet high. Martin Luther King is at the top. Farther down, youll see Harriet Tubman, the Dalai Lama, Frank Zappa, Ayn Rand and more.
Dominique Lewis caught glimpses of those 69 names in white letters as well as one mysterious blank line as she rode the Purple Line to work every day. I thought, Thats weird. Why is Rush Limbaugh on a list with Martin Luther King Jr.? she says. So she asked Curious City to investigate the list’s history and whether there’s a common theme that connects those names.
Well, its called Freedom Wall, and all of the names represent freedom … or someones idea of freedom, anyway. The artist who created it Adam Brooks, a Columbia College professor who grew up in London says he didnt have a partisan political agenda when he put up the list 20 years ago this August. In fact, he went out of his way to include conservative as well as liberal opinions about who represents freedom. And he avoided spelling out the word freedom on the banner because he wanted to make people think. He certainly got Lewis thinking.
Brooks acknowledges that Freedom Wall prompts some people to ask, Wait, thats supposed to be art? But he appears to have very little ego about his artwork, not even bothering to sign it. Brooks is trying to engage the public with his public art, not to dazzle people with his artistic prowess.
We invited Brooks to the WBEZ studios to discuss Freedom Wall. Lewis joined us for the conversation and added some questions of her own. Heres an edited transcript of our discussion.
Why did you create Freedom Wall?
Brooks: In 1992 and the lead-up to the presidential election that year, I heard the candidates really ramping up the idea of freedom. Of course, whos going to be against freedom? America is the land of the free. I was interested in exploring that word a little bit further.
Why did you seek other peoples opinions?
Brooks: It wouldve been very easy for me to sit down and draw up a list of names of people that I felt embodied the idea of freedom, but that wouldve been rather boring. And so what I did was essentially ask the question, Give me the names of up to three people that you feel embody the concept of freedom, whatever that means to you.
Read this article:
A fresh look at Freedom Wall