New art project immortalizes student’s experience with the COVID-19 pandemic


Beneath the Fullerton CTA station lies a piece of DePaul University’s history. “The Little School Under the ‘L’ Under the ‘L’” are a series of murals under the Fullerton CTA station. Each pillar visually portrays the history of DePaul University through prominent figures such as DePaul University’s third president, Rev. Francis X. McCabe.

Launched six years ago and currently led by Brother Mark Elder, the pillars are created and developed by ART 291, an art class taught by Brother Mark Elder open to all students offered by DePaul University.

“There are about two dozen [pillars] that should adequately tell [DePaul’s] story from pillar to pillar,” Elder said. “The closer to Belden you get, the more historical they are, the further north you go, you find the topics are more timely and deal with the present.”

In the past, ART 291 would travel throughout the city to work on murals such as “The Mural at 91 St.” located on the South Side of Chicago in collaboration with SkyART, a nonprofit visual arts program.

However, due to a change in the student population, the community decided it would be more convenient for incoming classes to work on more local pieces.

“Each ART 291 class has been trying to help me fabricate these pillars that you see under there, and it came from a specific idea that it should serve the community somehow,” said Elder.

This change in the student population was the motivation for the creation of “The Little School Under the ‘L’” and “Under the ‘L’”  in 2015.

This led Elder to look for an opportunity to scout projects that would benefit and speak to the university.

He said he wanted to approach it “in such a way that students could learn from the experience of dealing with new materials and the notion that they would be contributing to the various designs of the particular pillars they encountered that year.”

Each class works on one pillar that pertains to a specific topic. In deciding what each year’s pillar topic will be, town hall meetings are held and advertised in various student media and are open to the DePaul community.

“I have town hall meetings,” Elder said. “When we first started the project in the fall of 2015 and I announced it, we had a nice luncheon and we let people talk.”

Students gather at these town hall meetings hosted by DePaul to voice their opinions on what would be a relevant topic to cover through a pillar. Input from the DePaul community is heard at these meetings and creates a pillar that shows what the public considers to be crucial to DePaul’s story.

This year, the ART 291 class faces a topic that has affected everyone: Covid-19.

“Just looking around and seeing how it affected us at the university and all the changes we had to make throughout the academic year, people were really banged around, but we had to respond and deal with it,” Elder said.

This year’s pillar will include individual “mask” formats that each student will design to represent their experience with Covid-19. Topics such as chronic illness, death, and mental health are just some of the issues students are working on portraying.

DePaul senior Em Sicinski is creating a piece that commemorates healthcare workers and people who are choosing to get vaccinated.

“My sister is a nurse,” Sicinski said. “Seeing and hearing all of what she’s done inspired my mask.”

They designed one of their masks as a way to say thank you to everyone getting vaccinated as well as a piece to acknowledge the impact healthcare workers have had on the pandemic.

“Each of these pillars is like a time capsule in its own way, and this Covid pillar is no different than that,” Elder said. “This year’s ART 291 class gets the opportunity to encapsulate their own memories — good, bad or indifferent — as to what affected them in accordance with Covid-19.”

The Covid-19 pillar will be installed by this spring quarter, and the project, with 25 pillars in the collection, will be completed next fall.