“Enigma” by Barbara Goldsmith (Submitted photo)

Evanston Library Board members were presented with a real “Enigma” at their regular meeting on May 19.

At the meeting, Gay Riseborough, a member of the City’s Art Council’s Public Art Working Group, sounded trustees out about accepting a sculpture piece titled “Enigma,” which would be installed in the southwest corner of the Reading Garden at the Robert Crown branch library, at Main Street just east of Dodge Avenue.

Whether a donated sculpture would be placed in the reading garden of the Robert Crown Library hangs on several decisions. (RoundTable photo)

Barbara Goldsmith, the creator of the piece, has been an Evanston sculptor for 40 years, working out of the City’s Noyes Cultural Arts Center since the early 1980s, Ms. Riseborough told the Board.

She said Ms. Goldsmith is a past member of the Arts Council, has a piece on display at Skokie’s Sculpture Park, and is a past winner of the Mayor Award for the Arts.

Now in the process of retiring and closing her studio, Ms. Goldsmith invited Ms. Riseborough, a well-known artist herself, to her Noyes studio to look at her work, Ms. Riseborough said.

Ms. Riseborough’s assessment was that the character Enigma could be “a funny, imaginative character for the library, sort of right out of a book,” she said.

She said Lawrence Hemingway, the City’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, suggested the Reading Garden as the site for the piece. She said he suggested placing Enigma on a 14-inch concrete post so the piece could be moved from one part of the Reading Garden to another.

Paula Martinez, Assistant to the City Manager and staff liaison to the Arts Council, said the group started working on an official policy for donations in 2018, and since that time “we have received quite a bit of requests of people” looking to donate their work.

She said the process for donations to the City is that the request will first be reviewed by the Public Art Working group and then by the Arts Council.

Because of the maintenance and upkeep that can go along with a donation of artwork, the proposed gift also has to be reviewed by the City Council’s Human Services Committee as well as the Council itself, she told Board members.

With this piece yet to go through some of those steps, Ms. Martinez said to Library Board members, “we’re here to get your input and feedback on what you think of the piece and [whether] this [is] something that might be of interest to you.”

Shawn Iles, President of the Board, noted the Reading Garden where the sculpture would go is used by a lot of children. He said with the piece, “being tall, narrow, and very climbable, I’m a little bit concerned that it’s going to be a target for children in a way that it’s not intended to be.”

Fellow Board member Ben Schapiro offered a different view. “I don’t know the artist. I just like the piece. It is kind of unusual looking, and I think it would fit well with the Reading Garden. Having been a childhood climber myself, I see your [Mr. Iles’s], point but I’m pretty sure the City would act in its own fiduciary best interest by bolting it to something [so] that it won’t tip over.”

Bringing in another element, Mr. Iles asked Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons whether she had received any feedback from the Zimmerman family, which has expressed interest in making a substantial donation to have the Reading Garden named in honor of a family member, said Ms. Danczak Lyons. She said the parties are within 45 to 60 days of completing an agreement on the terms of the donation.

In the meantime, with discussion about “ Enigma,” on the Board’s May 19 agenda, Ms. Lyons indicated she had been in contact with Friends of Robert Crown, the private citizens group raising funds for construction of that Center, which had in turn consulted with the Zimmermans.

“And what I’ve been told is that the Zimmerman family feels that as they’re making a substantial donation to honor a family member, and they really want to maintain the space as a programming Reading Garden space. They’re not interested in having sculptures or anything else permanently installed there.”

Mr. Iles noted the issues around safety and whether the location is appropriate relative to the program and purpose of the [Reading] Garden.

“I think it would behoove us to finish the memorandum of understanding with the Zimmerman family,” he said. “And it sounds like there are additional hurdles with the Arts Council and Human Services Committee before you necessarily need an answer from us.”

Ms. Martinez said her mission was to receive feedback on the Library Board’s direction before taking the issue further.

“I don’t want to go to the Arts Council and have them approve [the sculpture donation] and then I come back to you and you’re like, ‘No, we don’t want to,’ if the agreement [with the Zimmerman family] doesn’t allow you,” she said.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.