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The Public Art Committee – and the City of Evanston – has done a laudable job in the field of public art. The pieces selected are good art and most are appropriately placed. They are not uniform in style or even in level of excellence, but all are good and enrich their surrounds. While some art is placed inside locations such as the Main Library and some schools, in this article I will comment on those located outdoors.
The most recent work is “Conversations: Here and Now” by Indira Freitas Johnson, located in the northwest corner of Raymond Park, 1489 Chicago Ave. It is a circle of charming bronze chairs on which you can actually sit. This piece has an interesting history. It was one of the final five pieces when the art was selected for the corner of Sherman Avenue and Davis Street.
While enthusiastically supported, the concern was that it would not be a good choice for that busy corner. The sculpture came to be through the generosity of the family of Isabel MacLean, a long-time Evanstonian and celebrated artist.
Within walking distance is the powerful “The Sea of the Ear-Ring ’07,” with a red-painted steel ring that floats gently up and down, located at the northwest corner of Sherman and Davis. The sculptor is Takashi Soga, who resides on the east coast.
In the category of powerful, is the stainless steel “Bookends” by the renowned sculptor Richard Hunt. The pieces are unfortunately located near the roof of the Public Library on the west façade, 1703 Orrington Ave. – a poor location, where the power of the work cannot be appreciated. It is time to think of relocating it to where it truly can become “public” art.
I must admit that my favorite piece is “Silver Wings,” a large stainless steel sculpture by the late Ferdinand Rebechini, donated by his family, which stands in an open grassy area at the intersection of Green Bay Road and McCormick Boulevard.
Public art can enrich fire stations regardless of their architectural style. While the anodized aluminum photo etchings at Fire Station #3 by Adelheid Mers and Patrick McGee, 1105 Central St., are good art, but they are difficult to decipher from the street. “Emitting Waves” by Robert Smart at the recently completed Fire Station #5, 2830 Central St., is powerful and beautifully visible.
The most recent public art on the west wall of the CTA embankment just south of Main Street is my all-time favorite. It is not to be missed. It is a mosaic map of Evanston, colorful, rich and inviting. The piece was funded by the Evanston Public Art Committee’s Community Art Fund and designed by Open Studio Project artist Sonata Kazimeraitiene, with assistance from the Chicago Public Art Group.
There are many more pieces of public art, and anyone interested may pick up a handsome brochure – “Cultural Arts in Evanston” – at the Civic Center, or contact the website www.evanstonartsbuzz.com.
The process of selecting the art is a time-consuming, elaborate method of jumping “hurdles” that tends to ensure quality. After an international call for submissions, the committee – composed of business and lay people, architects and City officials – narrows it down to between three and five finalists, who are invited to present their designs. These are displayed for citizen comments. The final selection is made by the Public Art Committee (a sub-committee of the Evanston Arts Council) of 8-12 members and ratified by the City Council. This is a complex, time-consuming, but very democratic, process. In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that the former co-chair of the Public Art
Committee is my wife, Gerry.
You will notice that two of the pieces listed are donated. Otherwise, how is public art being paid for? First, 1 percent of the cost of any municipal building over $1,000,000 is allocated for public art. This however limits the placement of the art in the vicinity of the building. Consequently, neighborhoods would get no art. As a remedy a partial percentage of capital improvement projects (sewers, streets, lighting, etc.) can be used for art in any part of the City and has enriched the Evanston Art Center, Willard School, murals, etc. If your neighborhood has an idea for public art, talk to your alderman as a way to start.
Amazingly, private development, such as apartment buildings, costing millions of dollars, are neither asked nor required to contribute to the public art fund. Why not? Naturally, we missed a golden opportunity during the boom of the past ten years. I hope we shall be smarter when it starts again.