Making Government Work

One Artist Turns a Pothole Problem Into a Public Art Project

May 26, 2014
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One Artist Turns a Pothole Problem Into a Public Art Project
Jim Bachor is filling in potholes in Chicago with his tile graffiti. Screengrab via Fox 32
Filling Chicago's craters? Beautiful marble mosaics.

After enduring a punishing winter with below zero temperatures and heaps of snow, Chicagoans are finally enjoying some better weather. But along with those warmer days come one of the city’s biggest nuisances: Potholes.

Every year when the ice thaws and the streets crack into mangled turf, residents grouse about the countless road dimples, but invariably, the city cannot fill them up fast enough. This year, Chicago saw one of the worst pothole seasons on record, with 47,500 pothole complaints between December and March alone. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) assumes there’s at least five unreported potholes for every complaint — meaning that officials estimate there’s a minimum of least 60,000 holes that remain unfilled, according to the Chicago Tribune.

With only 30 pothole crews, that’s a problem.

But instead of getting mad, 49-year-old Jim Bachor is getting creative. During February of last year, Bachor shared the plight of navigating through his northwest side’s pock-marked streets. With the help of his 87-year-old neighbor’s watchful eye, one night Bachor snuck out onto the street and filled a pothole with a 16-by-24-inch mosaic he designed to look like the Chicago flag, emblazoned with the label, “Pothole.”

Bachor, an artist and former advertising executive, has since made five more mosaics and has at least two more in the pipeline, according to Fast Company.

MORE: What New York’s Bryant Park Can Teach Other Cities About Caring for Public Spaces

“What really drew me to the mosaics originally was the permanence of the artwork. When I first went to work in the late ‘90s and came across the ancient mosaics still intact 2,000 years later it blew me away,” Bachor said. “Potholes can never be solved. They come back every year. They keep people employed, but it’s always a temporary solution.”

Each mosaic costs the professional artist and stay-at-home-dad about $50 for marble and materials and takes at least 10 hours to dry, which is why you won’t see these pot-art pieces proliferating around town.

“When I’m doing this kind of stuff, it’s amazing the percentage of people who pay no attention. And then there are people who stop by and say, ‘Thanks for beautifying our neighborhood,’” Bachor said. “One guy stopped to thank me and gave me a coffee and a Danish.”

While it’s not a practical solution, Bachor’s work is brightening up communities and turning an annual headache into a neighborhood beautification tactic. As for the CDOT, while they’re not advocating Bachor or others take on the task of filling in potholes, they’re certainly not discouraging the pleasant addition.

“Mr. Bachor and his art are proof that even the coldest, harshest winter can not darken the spirits of Chicagoans,” an official city statement said.

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