Melissa Merli's Art Beat: Public Art League already has made its mark on C-U

Melissa Merli's Art Beat: Public Art League already has made its mark on C-U

We should all raise our glasses this holiday season to the Public Art League.

In just a short time, this group of private individuals has brought 31 sculptures to Champaign-Urbana. Most are here on two-year leases; a few have been purchased for permanent placement.

Besides enhancing the twin cities, the public art has the side benefit of stimulating even more creativity, says David Wilcoxen, who recently was re-elected to a two-year term as president of the Public Art League.

He gave these tangible examples: Della Perrone took beautiful photographs of the sculptures for the league's brochures and website. Parkland College graphic design Professor Paul Young and one of his classes re-designed the website. And Gretchen Wieshuber of Studio 2D designed a map of the sculpture locations for the league.

They did all of the work for free, saving the league money it can spend on its sculpture program.

Of course, the league does not purchase the sculptures, but instead finds sponsors to cover the cost of leasing each of them for two years.

That's the beauty of the league's program — at least for people who don't want to see tax money spent on public art: Little public money goes toward the sculptures.

In most cases, the cities and park districts cover the installation costs only. However, the Urbana Public Arts Commission has sponsored three sculptures, spending public money to do so, Wilcoxen said.

And in the case of Jeff Boshart's monumental "THEB #1" outside the Blue Line Station on North Neil Street, the installation and lease were covered by Champaign businessmen Jeff Mellander and Al Fleener.

Altogether, the market value of the sculptures installed by the Public Art League since it formed in 2010 amounts to more than $500,000.

The league, though, wants to expand beyond sculptures. One idea is to bring in temporary installations, like an artist-created sound box. As with the sculptures, the temporary projects will need sponsors, or benefactors.

The Public Art League also remains interested in public art such as mosaics and murals — and urban lighting.

"Urban lighting is something we play around with, but that's farther down the road," Wilcoxen said. "We would have to coordinate a lot more people."

Closer to fruition are the league's plans to offer walking tours of the public art, led by volunteer guides.

Wilcoxen told me that will take time to put together but hopes it will happen as soon as the 2013 Boneyard Arts Festival, which rolls around April 11-14.

So far, only one sculpture placed here by the Public Art League has been vandalized; the culprit was ferreted out and brought to court.

The plaques identifying the sculptures tend to take more of a beating by the public, Wilcoxen said.

"I think that was bad design on our part because they were structurally vulnerable to being kicked over," he said. "We have a brand-new design for the plaques that is triangular in shape. They're closer to the ground and sturdier and will be more resilient."

Because of the one vandalism case, the Public Art League now places the more fragile sculptures indoors. One is in the lobby of the I Hotel and Conference Center. Another is expected to arrive soon to grace a display window at Joseph Kuhn & Co. in Champaign.

The league, which had a nice reception Dec. 13 at Boltini Lounge, a thank-you to folks who have helped out over the year, now looks forward to bringing more sculptures here in 2013.

It will issue its call to artists in March; the deadline for submitting entries is usually the second week in June.

For more information and to see the redesigned website, go to

Ebert update

Roger Ebert, our favorite native son, isn't posting as much on social media sites. He's now in rehabilitation for a hairline fracture in his left leg, as you may know.

According to the Universal Studios website, he also has had to curtail his reviews.

Ebert was characteristically open in his blog posted Dec. 8 on The Sun-Times site:

"This will be boring. I'll make it short. I have a slight and nearly invisible hairline fracture involving my left femur. I didn't fall. I didn't break it. It just sort of ... happened to itself.

"Most of the time, it causes me no pain at all. But my left leg won't bear any weight, nor can I walk on it. About a week ago I began to feel pain down around there. On Wednesday I had some X-rays. By Thursday I was nearly immobile. Now I'm back at my alma mater, Northwestwern Memorial Hospital. On Monday I'll probably be checking into the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. This will be my fifth visit there. Once again they'll teach me to walk. I am a slow learner."

Ebert posted another blog ( on Dec. 15 about the school massacre in Newtown, Conn. And this past week he tweeted about the release of his latest book, "Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2013," a 25th anniversary edition from Andrew McMeel Publishing.

Besides new reviews, it features interviews with newsmakers and celebs, among them 2011 Ebertfest guest Tilda Swinton; a tribute to film critic Andrew Sarris, who died in June; and journal entries on film subjects, essays on the Oscars, and reports from the Toronto Film Festival.

Quick recovery, Roger!

MFA show picked

In his list of the 2012 top art picks in Chicago and the Midwest for Newcity, a free independent weekly newspaper in Chicago, writer Pedro Velez included the 2012 University of Illinois MFA Show at Krannert Art Museum.

"The way in which success is measured at the graduate program of the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, located in the middle of the cornfields of Illinois, is not quantity but quality," Velez wrote. "It is a three-year research program where only a handful of students must demonstrate they have the capacity to make stuff. In other words, craft is as important as concept. Therefore, their MFA shows are always a delight to see. This year's standouts were Nicki Werner, Maria Lux and Michael Woody. Look them up; they're about to make waves."

You can look up my Studio Visit with Lux at

Keys a critic

As you may know, Henson Keys, head of the acting program in the UI Department of Theatre, is an opera buff who has directed a few operas for the UI Opera Program and who has written reviews of opera CDs and DVDs for a few years for the website

He's moving on up: Recently he received a commission from Opera News Magazine to write reviews. His first for it is of the latest audio CD of Gioachino Rossini's "Aureliano in Palmira"; it appears in the January 2013 issue.

Beauty and Belief

In my roundup of art exhibitions to see in last week's Art Beat, I forgot to mention the fabulous "Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture," on view through Jan. 13 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Sabiha Al Khemir, one of the world's foremost experts in Islamic art, curated "Beauty and Belief." The Tunisian scholar selected 250 objects from 40 private and public collections, dating from the seventh century to present day. Some of them will surprise you.

The Indy museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. It's closed Mondays and Christmas and New Year's Day. Call 317-923-1331 or visit

Nathan Gunn

A reminder: Grammy Award-winning opera singer Nathan Gunn will be featured in the annual Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra Christmas special, which was taped last year. It airs at 8 p.m. Monday on WILL-TV.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or Her blog is at

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