Artist: David Powers
Date of Action: July 7, 2016
Region: North America
Location: Elgin, Illinois
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion, Violence
Medium: Painting, Public Art
Confronting Bodies: City of Elgin Illinois
Description of Artwork: The mural, which depicts a group of larger-than-life figures, was commissioned by the city in 2004 from The Outside Exhibition Group, a public art program founded by artist and Elgin resident David Powers whose purpose was to engage students in making public art. Along with art students from Judson University, Powers created the mural with the theme of racism. The figures depicted are based on the mob in an infamous photograph of a lynching in Indiana, taken by Lawrence Beitler in 1930. The source image for the mural was not disclosed at the time of the commission. For a decade, "American Nocturne" stood in downtown Elgin along a pedestrian walkway between Spring and Grove avenues and stirred no controversy.
The Incident: Two passersby noticed that the figures are strikingly similar to those in an infamous photograph of a lynching in Indiana, shot by Lawrence Beitler in 1930. They shared its image on social media and thereby sparked an outcry, protests and a campaign to have it removed.
Results of Incident: Following a public recommendation to remove the mural, the Illinois City Council met on July 13, 2016 to vote on whether the recommendation will be put into action. The Chicago Tribune reported that the public vote was unanimous for removal of the mural. According to the Chicago Daily Herald, the Elgin mural was removed and put into storage until the City Council met gain to vote on its future. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Elgin City Council voted in favor of the Cultural Arts Commission developing a public arts policy. The Commission will be responsible for deciding the fate of the American Nocturne mural and any other future plans for public art in Elgin.
Op-Ed, Chicago tribune/Courier-News: Talk about, don't hide, public art, by Svetlana Mintcheva, July 15, 2016
Elgin commission delays lynching-mural recommendation, by Elena Ferrarin; updated: 7/11/2016
Elgin mural 'not doing any good' says arts commissioner, by Janelle Walker, June 15, 2016
Elgin artist: Mural connected to lynching photo was created to get people talking about history, by Janelle Walker, May 19, 2016