Created in 2009 on the north and south walls of the Foster Street underpass at Lake Shore Drive, Indian Land Dancing is an exceptional example of community-based artwork in Chicago. Initiated by Alderman Mary Ann Smith, the mural is meant to teach passersby about the past and present Native American Culture in the Great Lakes region. The three lead artists of the project—Cynthia Weiss, Tracy Van Duinen, and Todd Osborne—acted as facilitators for community discussions involving representatives from a cross-section of the Native American community as well as the Edgewater community, generally. Determined to create a mural that did not replicate generalizations about “Indian” culture, the design process took over two years of careful planning and community collaborations.
The result is a vibrant bricolage mosaic that utilizes ceramic tile, mirror, acrylic paint, and image transfer, among other media. The walls contain both large- and small-scale details so that both drivers and walkers can appreciate the mural. On the north wall one can see a mirrored DNA strand, a Native American iron worker, the mother embracing the next seven generations, a genealogy chart, and Tom Tom drums. On the south wall are phases of the moon, a thunderbird taking flight, a canoe rushing past a Native American lodge, sculpted corn, and sun imagery. These images balance themes commonly used to depict Native American culture with themes community members feel are seldom discussed but integral to contemporary discussions of Native American history. To represent family, modern pictures of children, families, poets, and activists became a centerpiece that grounds the bricolage. On the opposing wall, a collage of family photos collected by Native American participants offsets the grid-patterned centerpiece. Time and migration can be seen in the canoe, which is balanced by a skateboarder; the thunderbird, which is balanced by migrating geese; and the genealogy chart, which depicts the passing of generations.