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Challenges to maintaining Community Public Art in Joliet

Megann Horstead, Reporter – news@thetimesweekly.com | 6/14/2018, 6 a.m.
The effort to maintain community public art is underway in the city of Joliet, and officials say despite their interest ...

The effort to maintain community public art is underway in the city of Joliet, and officials say despite their interest in investing further into the program, more work is necessary to find a way to pay for the upkeep, all while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

From sculptures and mosaics to murals, there is a plethora of creative works on display in town for people to enjoy.

The city and the nonprofit organization Friends of Community Public Art (FCPA), work in partnership to make the community public art program possible.

Every year FCPA outlines for the city what repair needs to be done. “We review the plan, and have a discussion on what’s needed,” said Kendall Jackson, City of Joliet Community Development Director. The FCPA is looking to obtain additional funding. The community art organization has been receiving $10,000 annually toward maintenance of city-owned public art but is hopeful for an increase. This year’s allotment will pay for work to be completed on 15 pieces.

It often varies what needs to be cleaned up or fixed from one year to the next. Typically, the city will receive before- and- after pictures showing what is done.

Kathleen Farrell, founder of Friends of Community, who is also one of the local artists, said the group has met with the city on a number of occasions to inquire about opportunities for additional funding.

“When the financial crisis hit the city stopped funding public art,” Farrell said. “They did go back after a number of years to fund an annual maintenance.”

Friends of Community Public Art is currently trying to sell the building it purchased at 310 Ottawa St. in downtown Joliet. Although they still exist as a nonprofit, the group’s work has been reduced over the years, according to Farrell.

“If we had a commission that required space, we’d rent space to complete the commission,” she said.

When the art group was formed in 1991, Farrell had a vision that she wanted to be realized.

“My idea was that we would train local artists of all ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds to become professional artist, and then we would do artwork that also told the stories of the people,” Farrell said. “There’s always been a social justice element to fund community public art. Also, we always believed in paying professional artists professional wages.”

When asked if the city realizes it could miss an opportunity to better align Joliet to its downtown development plan by not increasing its current funding level for community public art, Jackson did not dismiss the idea.

“There’s always that chance,” he said. “You get into a priority situation, and I’m not sure what policy makers want.”

Councilman Larry Hug said that while Joliet is in better financial footing today to increase funding toward the program, not too long ago it was a different story.

“Funding was cut by the time I came to the council,” he said.

Hug has been a critic of the city’s spending in the past and voted against efforts to provide funding to help the Rialto Square Theater to pay its bills and purchase Evergreen Terrace, an apartment complex sought through the courts.

Hug, a member of city council since 2011 and a self-proclaimed “art person”, is supportive of the community public art program and its merits. He said it boils down to dollars and sense.

“I don’t think there’s money in the budget,” Hug said.

Councilman Don “Duck” Dickinson expressed his support for the community public art program, saying the city needs to find funding for it.

“We do so much to improve the look of [the downtown,]” he said. “We’ve got businesses coming in and green space to use. We need to maintain what we have.”

Dickinson wants city staff and officials to have more discussion on finding a way forward, if Joliet is going to continue the program.