Cicada Parade-A Art Project Raising Money For Insect Asylum’s Rooftop Garden

AVONDALE — Cicadas are about to be everywhere, and the team at The Insect Asylum is feeling the buzz.

Inside the basement of the Avondale museum at 2870 N. Milwaukee Ave., volunteers and employees are hard at work making over 1,000 cicada plaster molds for a spectacular community-wide art project that will celebrate the convergence of two cicada broods while raising money for its rooftop garden project.

Last month, The Insect Asylum launched the Cicada Parade-a 2024, an art initiative organized by the museum and Baltimore-based Formstone Castle Collective artist Michael Bowman to bring awareness to the double cicada emergence through collaborative art. The idea was birthed by Roger McMullan, of Salt Lake City, a lifelong enthusiast of the periodical cicada and author and illustrator of the new graphic novel “Cicadapocalypse.”

The initiative’s volunteers have been doling out hundreds of large plaster cicadas for artists and business owners to adopt for free and decorate to show them publicly next month around the city, said Insect Asylum owner Nina Salem.

Colin Dunklau helps make the hundreds of large, plaster cicadas that are being made at the Insect Asylum in Avondale, on April 3, 2024. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

People are also able to buy the white cicadas for their own project for $75, or sponsor a bundle of cicadas to have at their own locations for artists to paint, further enhancing public engagement while fundraising for the rooftop garden, Salem said.

“I’ve been praying to my spirits for help in order to make these [garden] goals come to life and to bring this community what they deserve and what they need, a way to make this rooftop garden happen … and this is the prayer that we were asking for,” Salem said of the cicada effort.

Colin Dunklau, one of the cicada makers, has been working nonstop in the museum’s basement to churn out four cicada an hour. He’s a musician, not a visual artist, but the experience has him excited for this year’s emergence and the project’s impact, since the last big cicada buzz he remembers was about 30 years ago, he said.

“This is probably the most rewarding work I’ve ever done because it’s creating something with your hands,” Dunklau said. “I can’t wait ’til they’re all up and I’ll just be driving around the city, I’ll see one and I’ll say, ‘I was part of that.’ That’s going to feel really great.”

Dunklau’s working partner, Camilo Lopez, said making the cicadas has been a spiritual and cultural experience that highlights the bug’s importance in our ecosystem. He plans to also design a sculpture for the public art project.

“Making these bugs is a reminder of how important these animals are, and that we need to coexist with them,” said Lopez, an art professor visiting from Colombia. “And when someone paints these, it shows all of our creativity in how we can work together and support nature.”

Camilo Lopez helps make the hundreds of large, plaster cicadas that are being made at the Insect Asylum in Avondale, on April 3, 2024. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The team has made over 300 cicadas so far and is trying to keep up with the amount of orders from people, Salem said. She admits that once news about Cicada Parade-a 2024 spread online, it went viral — and the museum has been getting hundreds of calls, emails and visit from people wanting to get their hands on a giant bug, she said.

As more donations, sponsorships and volunteers join to help the project, more cicadas can be made to fill the demand. Those interested in getting involved can sign up online.

Artists from Berwyn and other suburbs are also jumping on the cicada parade, a sign the project is resonating with a large community, Salem said.

“I think every single one of us can connect to a positive childhood memory involving a cicada,” Salem said. “The stories that we’re hearing from people but why they want the cicadas are beautiful. It’s one of these things that makes you just look around and realize we are all so unique and different, but in reality, we have very human and very real experiences that are genuinely shared and collected by so many different communities that this cute little bug has the entire city screaming ‘cicadas.’”

Those who adopted a cicada to design are required to drop them off at the museum before May 15 or at the Avondale Gardening Alliance’s seedling sale and swap 1-3:30 p.m. May 19 at the Revolution Taproom, 3340 N. Kedzie Ave. People can still sign up to design one before next month.

The giant sculptures will be displayed at public parks, museums and institutions until Labor Day. After that, people will be able to snag a colorful cicada of their own during an October gala, auction and fundraiser for the rooftop garden and The Insect Asylum’s programs, Salem said. All of the cicadas that were donated to the art project will be auctioned off for the community to buy.

Hundreds of large, plaster cicadas are being made at the Insect Asylum in Avondale, on April 3, 2024. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The team is trying to raise at least $130,000 to launch the rooftop garden, which would have space for the museum’s native insect program in collaboration with the Avondale Gardening Alliance and The Free Plant Library. It will also serve as an outdoor classroom and event space, Salem said.

The city awarded the project a $130,000 reimbursement grant, but after talking with architects, the project cost is likely going to be about $350,000 because it requires restructuring the building and potentially adding an elevator to make the garden accessible, the owner said.

“We need the donations because this is the first major fundraiser we’ve done for the rooftop garden project,” Salem said. “We promised our community garden so we are going to get a garden.”

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