In 2020, the Spurlock Museum of World Cultures and our community partners (40North, Urbana Park District, Champaign Park District and Urbana Arts and Culture) premiered The Great ARTdoors, a new public-art initiative.
With in-person events canceled, and with a will to help the community during the pandemic, we were able to shift funds in support of our local artists. Our goal was to help artists who had lost their usual venues and to bring solace — and maybe even a little joy — to the C-U community at large.
We received glowing feedback from the community. Some appreciated the chance to get to know area parks they hadn’t yet visited. Others thanked us for providing outdoor destinations that were safe when many other forms of entertainment were unavailable. Teachers took their classrooms to visit the installations, and students made art and writing projects based upon their favorite pieces.
The Great ARTdoors was also named by Smile Politely as Best New Art Programming of 2020.
Although the pressures of the pandemic have waned in 2021, we decided to continue with an annual installment of The Great ARTdoors. Its success and clear service to the community were a benefit to all and in line with the missions of each of our organizations.
Once again, we awarded
10 stipends to area artists in an open-submission contest and placed their works in area parks, giving precedence to locations in underserved areas.
I realized this mission on a personal level when on a steamy Saturday in June, I met my in-laws, David and Mohan Tracy, at Crystal Lake Park to help them install their piece, “Waiting to Fly.” (I had recused myself from the submission process.)
Mohan, a local quilt artist, stitched together three kites using bright parachute material in a quilted pattern, and her husband, David, engineer extraordinaire, designed the three-pronged tower on which the kites would rotate.
Early in the morning, we carted the parts and tools across town and began reassembling at the site. Kelly White from 40North met us there to provide logistical support and take photos, while Mohan; David; my teenage son, Henri; my partner, Dillon; local artist and friend Kuldeepa; and I worked to assemble and erect the sculpture.
Kuldeepa provided us with a thermos of homemade chai, rich with cardamom, and my younger son, Oliver, frolicked in the field collecting wild flowers.
In the final stage of construction, as we were having some trouble hoisting the towering pole up with rope, a family happened by on their evening walk and offered to help. A mother, father and their young daughter took up the rope and helped us guide the central pole into place. We thanked them, and they thanked us in turn for adding a beautiful site on the route of their nightly walk.
Exhausted but cheerful, we took a short hike and then ate a picnic dinner in the grass, enjoying the gentle twirl of the kites in the breeze.
I write of this moment because for me, it encapsulates all that is so wonderful about The Great ARTdoors program: artists deeply engaged with their task, bringing beauty to a community park; family and friends donating the day to lend a hand; strangers stopping to marvel and offering help at the moment it is most needed; a family brought together by common purpose; enjoyment of the natural environment, which our parks services work so hard to shield and nurture; new friendships made between neighbors; administrators, like White, taking precious time from their weekend to facilitate the installation; and our community bonds strengthened and enriched.
I am grateful for the artists who contributed such diverse and accomplished work, and I’m grateful for the Spurlock Museum, 40North, the Urbana and Champaign park districts and Urbana Arts and Culture for bringing this program to fruition.
I hope that you, along with your family and friends, will visit each of the 10 pieces. Give yourself time to walk and explore the parks, bring a blanket and picnicking with the fireflies in the evening. You are also encouraged to make your own outdoor installation — find inspiration from the pieces, collect unused objects from around your house and let your imagination guide you as you make your own creation, whether alone or with family and friends.
You can install your art in an outdoor space and take a photo to share on social media (use the hashtag #cuARTdoors or #greatARTdoors).
The Great ARTdoors is an offering of love for our community that I hope each of us will find time to enjoy.
For locations and an interactive map that is mobile friendly, visit the Spurlock website at spurlock.illinois.edu/
For more information about The Great ARTdoors program and profiles of the artists, go to 40north.org/programs/thegreatARTdoors.
Keep an eye out for upcoming events related to The Great ARTdoors by following Spurlock and 40North on Facebook. Our Spurlock Sundays craft program will feature activities based on the Great ARTdoors.
On Aug. 8, visitors will create pinwheels suggested by Judy Lee’s “(C3H4O2)n” kinetic sculptures in Douglass Park. The Sept. 12 activity will be kite-making influenced by Mohan Tracy’s “Waiting to Fly.”