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Amanda Williams

Editor’s note: Coco Picard spoke with Chicago artist Amanda Williams about her art project “Redefining Redlining” and how art can help inspire action. Edited text from the comic is transcribed here to ease readability.

In October 2022, artist Amanda Williams organized a massive community tulip planting event, in which volunteers planted 100,000 red tulips in vacant spaces where 21 homes once stood in Washington Park. The art installation, “Redefining Redlining,” is meant to make visible the continuing impact of redlining while also complicating ideas about the beauty and value of Black neighborhoods.

Amanda Williams: “Redlining is the term that is used to describe the discriminatory practice of designating large segments of major urban cities as “dangerous” or “hazardous”, and therefore not lend-worthy. Maps created by the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) illustrated these color coded zones of value and credit worthiness [and] developed the moniker of redlining maps. 

“The use of tulips is rooted in their history as a commodity in the Dutch golden era. Several sources chronicle the speculation frenzy around tulip bulbs and claim they gained values equivalent to that of a home. There is something ironic and poetic about that. If one bulb equaled one home, it makes you ask what 100,00 bulbs (and flowers) represent.

“These neighbors have witnessed almost a century of targeted, systematic, and systemically racist practices.

“I was really satisfied with what we accomplished in the planting and quite honestly didn’t have high expectations for an even bloom. We had all sorts of unknowns. . . . As the buds began to emerge, I was so excited to see one or two. . . . Then we had an unseasonable heat wave and they all bloomed at once. It was so exciting. It’s like having a new baby.

“One beautiful action won’t magically change the complex problem. It can serve as inspiration or an opportunity to take a risk for an idea you believe in.”

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