Artist Kalief Dinkins, who goes by Kaliefs Kanvas, unveiled a new public art installation last week at the intersection of 95th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, and he’s encouraging community members to go see the new billboard in person. 

“We Grow Here Too” is not a mural but a billboard. It is a digital art piece that was enlarged and placed on the billboard, Kalief explained during a phone interview with The TRiiBE.

The billboard depicts two children, a boy, and a girl, sitting together but looking off in the distance at the sky. The billboard was meant to inspire hope for those who view it. 

“When you’re a kid, you’re very optimistic. You feel like the world can’t slow you down and I think that’s something that we should hold on to, so the billboard kind of tries to hone in on that feeling,” Kalief said. To make you feel like you can do whatever is in front of you and go for the heights that you felt you could never reach.”

“We Grow Here Too” is a digital art piece that was enlarged and placed on the billboard, Kalief explained.

The 24-year-old is also known for creating other murals depicting individual and communal self-growth across the South Side. First, there’s the mural of President Barack Obama and other historical figures he created back with his peers on 40th and King Drive back in 2015. The portion that Kalief painted highlighted the Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team. 

He also created a mural of wings, similar to angel wings, outside Woodlawn Wings on 79th Woodlawn Avenue in 2018.

“Oftentimes I felt like, in our communities, we don’t see murals or aesthetically pleasing depictions of ourselves often put out into the public. But when you go to other neighborhoods, you see art all around the community, and it has more of a positive connotation to it,” Kalief said.

He added that public art on the West and South sides is viewed negatively or dismissed entirely as graffiti or street art. So part of his work is to shift the narrative on how people perceive public art on the South and West sides. 

The “We Grow Here Too” billboard was created in conjunction with ConTextos’ Ways To Tell program. Kalief is one of eight artists and authors selected for the program’s 2021 cycle. 

Ways To Tell is a community-based author and artist-led journey whose mission is to amplify voices from communities on the South and West sides and help authors and artists expand their work and creativity to unify and transform their neighborhoods. Artists and authors in this program cycle were tasked with producing a collaborative art piece representative of their communities in Chicago. Participants received a $10,000 stipend for the duration of the program from August 2021 to January 2022. 

Participants in the program worked as a team which consisted of one artist and one author. Kalief was paired with Timmy F., an artist, writer and streetwear designer. Timmy F. is also a Roseland native. He wrote a poem to accompany “We Grow Here Too” entitled “Rose That Grew From the Weeds.” 

Have you ever seen…

A rose sprout amongst the weeds 

Despite its surroundings

It somehow

Gets the nutrients it needs 

Maybe it was the tears

The mothers cried

That strengthened the roots 

Maybe it was the blood

That wasn’t cleaned

From the pavement

Which Gave It, It’s Color

How could this be ?

Surrounded by weeds

A red rose blossoms

On the the side of the street

Before creating a final piece, the program’s cohort participated in roundtable discussions centered around their experiences within communities in Chicago. Those discussions served as a guide to help participants create their final art piece. 

“The prompt was to create a piece that not only sparked conversation between communities but also within the community and others had different ways of creating art that they wanted to do, everybody did not have to do a public installation or portrayal of their art,” Kalief said.  “It could have been just a canvas or things like that. I chose for mine to be a public display for the community.” 

Kalief explained that he was introduced to art by seeing it displayed in the community. When traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood on the South Side, he saw public art under viaducts. He also traveled to see art in person with his grandmother, an art admirer. She took him to art galleries and museums such as the Art Institute in Chicago and other art institutions in Detroit and Milwaukee. 

With “We Grow Here Too,” the idea was also for it to be easily accessible to community members because everyone may not have access to seeing art in galleries or museums in the same way he did as a child. 

“So I kind of wanted the community to see the art without having to go and find it. I wanted to speak to them naturally [doing] their day-to-day type thing, something that you drive past on your way to work or walking to school, or going to the corner store,” Kalief said.  

The projects created under the Ways To Tell program were funded through the Arts 77 initiative, a citywide arts and reopening plan under the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. 

Kalief hopes that “We Grow Here Too” sparks conversation in the community and that the piece will help reshape the narrative that people in and out of Chicago have about the South Side specifically. 

“Despite what other people may say, this is where we grow. But also I wanted it to be a message to those on the outside that may try to overlook us, the South Side, Black people, and as a message to let them know that we grow here, and this is also our home, and we aren’t going anywhere,” he said. 

In addition to creating an art piece, participants in the Ways To Tell program will also have opportunities to discuss their art pieces in person. ConTextos will be hosting a gallery opening and book release on Friday, March 4, at 5:30 p.m. for the Ways To Tell program. The gallery opening will be located at 2240 S. Michigan Avenue.

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.