Champaign Parks Foundation buys sculpture in West Side Park

I virtually jumped for joy when I received a news release just now from the Champaign Parks Foundation about its purchase of a sculpture in West Side Park.

The foundation has become the first entity to purchase, for permanent display, a sculpture installed last year through the private Public Art League of Champaign-Urbana.

"Double Dutch — A Jump for Joy" by  Gary Bibbs of Lexington, Ky., will remain on the east side of West Side Park in perpetuity, at least if Mother Nature doesn’t interfere.

The foundation used a gift from the late Michael Carragher to pay for the piece. Foundation members voted at its April meeting to purchase the sculpture for $32,500 from Bibbs through the Public Art League, which had leased it for a two-year stay in the park.

Sponsor of that particular lease was the First Federal Savings Bank of Champaign-Urbana.

The Public Art League formed last year and in seemingly record time arranged for the installation in August 2010 of eight sculptures in and around downtown Champaign, adding some much-needed bling to the entertainment destination.

My favorite of the sculptures, "Double Dutch" is a 16-foot tall, 24-foot wide sculpture that Bibbs built in 2008 from stainless steel tubing and bronze. When helping to install the piece last summer, Bibbs said his inspiration for it came from the joy, happiness and innocence of children at play.    

"The Champaign Park District felt this sculpture was a beautiful addition to West Side Park with its graceful arch welcoming park users from the east," park district director Bobbie Herakovich said in the news release.

"Additionally, the artist’s intent is not lost on the Park District as ‘Double Dutch’ promotes joyful memories of youth, as does the Park District. Its location, directly east of ‘Tootsie,’ another sculpture donated by Michael Carragher, makes it a perfect fit for the funds left by Michael to add more art to West Side Park."

Mr. Carragher, a founder of Michaels’ Catering and a native of Champaign who grew up not too far from West Side Park, gave $88,210 to the Champaign Parks Foundation to help pay for the launch of a rotating sculpture program in the park.

That gift was separate from the $1 million he gave the foundation for renovations at the Virginia Theatre, which were completed several months ago and included the renovation of the lobby, now named after his mother, Tootsie.

The Public Art League arranged for the two-year leases of all eight of the sculptures, with the city and park district covering the costs of installation. Any individual or entity can purchase any of the sculptures (except for "Double Dutch," now spoken for) to remain at their original installation sites or to be moved to another place. That would be up to the new owner.

The purchase of "Double Dutch" by the Parks Foundation came as good news to Eric Robeson, treasurer of the Public Art League. He said the league has not yet actively marketed the sculptures but that they "certainly are all for sale."

David Wilcoxen, president of the league, said no one has come forward yet to talk about purchasing any of the other seven sculptures. Meanwhile, the league has put out its first call to artists for sculptures to be installed this summer.

The league has selected four so far, two from a Chicago artist, another from one in Buffalo, N.Y. and the fourth from an artist in Vera Cruz, Mexico.

Discovering it has to compete with sculpture programs in other cities, the league issued a second call to artists, with those entries due June 22.

"We’re going to try to pick up some more," Wilcoxen said, adding that their installations will depend on the availability of the artists.

The league might install some of the new leased sculptures in early June and some might go to Urbana, depending on the lease sponsors. The Urbana Public Arts Commission approved an agreement with the league to place sculptures there; the league as a committee of the whole must now approve that agreement, Wilcoxen said.

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