Introducing… Sculpture Walk Peoria

More than 50 communities across the United States have a formal sculpture walk. Together with the public art already in place along the riverfront and downtown, the redevelopment of the Warehouse District has become a compelling reason for this idea to take hold here in Peoria.

In 2013, a small group began to develop the concept, and in June 2014, their plans were unveiled to a group of 75 artists and community leaders. In September, Sculpture Walk Peoria officially became an initiative of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois, and the following month, the Peoria City Council formally reserved locations in the Warehouse District for the sculpture walk.

Joe Richey, president of the Warehouse District Association, has been leading the committee charged with making Sculpture Walk Peoria a reality. Art & Society recently had the opportunity to sit down with him and the committee to learn more about this exciting new venture.

How did the idea for a sculpture walk in Peoria first come about?
My wife, Michele, and I have attended many family reunions on her side of the family in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and we made a habit of going to their Sculpture Walk. They have been exhibiting sculpture on the street for 11 years, and each year it gets better. Sioux Falls now has 55 pieces of sculpture on the street, having started with about ten.

In 2007-2008, I worked with Craig Hullinger, then-director of economic development for the City of Peoria, on two projects: an artist relocation program for Peoria—traveling together to Paducah, Kentucky, to view their success story—and a sculpture walk based on those trips to Sioux Falls. Coincidentally, Craig is from Sioux Falls and was familiar with their sculpture walk and the economic success it has delivered for the city. Well, 2008 was not a good year for either project. We just couldn’t get traction given the economic conditions.

It’s six years later (a slow process!), and much better conditions exist today. The City has moved forward with many development plans… all stemming from the community meetings with architects and urban designers Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk in 2002. That project, the Heart of Peoria Plan, is on their website (dpz.com/Projects/0215) and is worth revisiting in light of the changes being made to Peoria. Credit goes to then-Mayor Dave Ransburg for having the foresight to bring them to town.

It's 12 years beyond their initial visit, and we now have major changes downtown: a new hotel connected to the Civic Center, a new Peoria Riverfront Museum and Caterpillar Visitors Center, nearly-completed infrastructure and streetscapes on Washington and Adams in the Warehouse District, a new historic district with development incentives, new restaurants, and a promise for more. We’re on our way to the live/work/play concept we have all been talking about.

In 2012, the City created the Downtown Advisory Commission to advise the mayor and council concerning policies, development and operations within the Downtown, Riverfront and Warehouse districts. I attend these meeting occasionally and keep current on the happenings in the downtown. In October 2013, the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission decided to plan an implementation strategy for public art in the Warehouse District. Eleven sites were prepared for public art, and additional sites could be added—the next step was to program the art.

Picking up on this opportunity, I dusted off my sculpture walk information and asked the Downtown Advisory Commission to support my idea to bring sculpture to Peoria on an annual leased basis—the same concept used by many cities, including Sioux Falls. They agreed to give it a try, and two advisory commissioners, Kip Strasma and Stacy Peterson, agreed to help flesh out the project. We are now a committee of 10 dedicated advocates working quickly toward our goal of putting sculpture on the street in June 2015.

What are some of the model cities and key takeaways for such a project?
I mentioned Sioux Falls as a launch point to do further research. I found that many cities were leasing sculpture from artists to improve art visibility in the community and bring more people to the city in the form of tourism. It didn’t take long to find at least 50 cities, ranging in population from 20,000 to well over 500,000, that successfully lease art. Peoria fits right in the middle of these cities.

Internet visits were made to the websites of Sioux Falls; Mankato, Minnesota; Mason City, Iowa; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Valparaiso, Indiana; Chicago, Illinois; Oak Park, Illinois; and others. Cities visited in person were Sioux Falls, Naperville, Chicago, Des Moines, Davenport and Milwaukee. These sculpture walks, tours and exhibits are popping up everywhere—and we want our city included.

Some key takeaways and lessons learned:

  • It is an economic driver for the city. There is also an educational component and opportunity. The city must participate and agree to allow the sculpture to be placed. 
  • Most sponsoring organizations are not-for-profits, which is important for raising funds. 
  • It’s important to highlight current sculpture in the city and recognize it as part of the overall scheme. Park districts are important as sites for placing permanent sculptures. Business donors can use the event for marketing and advertising. 
  • Juried professional art is important for success, and the local arts scene needs to be part of the process. 
  • The art is typically for sale through the sponsoring organization. Artists must be compensated to the extent that they will participate. 
  • Local media is important to getting the word out, and web presence is critical to success. 
  • Volunteers are needed every step of the way, and all donations are welcome—no donation is too small. 
  • Flexibility is key; it’s a constant process to improve the walk. It truly takes a city (village) to make this event successful.

We can apply many of these positive takeaways here in Peoria, but remember that all cities are different. We must keep in mind our heritage, culture and citizens while selecting contemporary art for our city. At the same time, efforts should be made to bring to our city new and invigorating art ideas and concepts.

How has the group developed from the initial steering committee?
Sculpture Walk Peoria's structure began informally with the leadership of a few individuals (especially Joe Richey, Chuck Weaver and the Downtown Advisory Commission) who launched the concept during two public meetings—one for artist stakeholders in February 2014 and one, sponsored by a Leaders Change Peoria grant, for supporters in June. Both events sought input about direction with the hope of organizing a walk in the spring of 2015.

Initially, the steering committee members (Joe Richey, Chuck Weaver, Kip Strasma, Stacy Peterson, Janis Straesser and Barbara Waldorf) sought to create a new 501(c)(3), but then decided to align efforts with ArtsPartners of Central Illinois because both groups shared similar missions and the alignment proved more efficient. The current committee has grown to include most of the original members and six new members (John and Sharon Amdall, Kim Armstrong, Pam and Perry Johnson, and Maegan Gilliland).

Sculpture Walk Peoria will be an initiative sponsored by ArtsPartners and guided by a committee. Donations and contributions will be sent to ArtsPartners and deposited in a Sculpture Walk account. We have a resolution agreement and a joint committee to work out the details. We consider this partnership a great opportunity to work with an organization that has in-depth knowledge of the arts scene in the Peoria area.

When do you expect the walk to launch? How will the sculptures and their locations be selected?
The planned launch date for sculpture on the street is June 2015; we plan for a minimum of 10 sculptures. The initial locations were marked by street improvements along Washington and Adams streets made possible by TIGER II funds. These 13 original sites were set aside by planners specifically for the display of public art. Currently, the steering committee is focusing on additional sites along Washington Street between Liberty and State in order to create a greater density of sculpture for patrons.

We have developed a call for artists, with a due date of January 21, 2015. Sculptors who apply will provide information to a selection committee that will evaluate the submissions based on artistic merit, public safety, durability and creativity, and select the participating artists. Final approval will be given by the city’s newly-formed Public Art Advisory Commission.

How often will the sculptures be rotated?
The current plan is that all sculptures will be rotated out and new ones replace them during a few days in June each year. Sculptures that have been purchased will go to their permanent locations, and those that have not been purchased will be returned to the artists.

What is involved in preparing a site for installation?
In September, Kip Strasma and I looked for sites along Washington Street. Our criteria were: four feet from the curb, close to a light standard, not by a fire hydrant, and allowing for an ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] passage that is five feet wide. We came up with about 30 spots that could work, and I know we can find more.

We want each sculpture to be visible from its neighboring sculptures to encourage a walk or tour. There are a number of theories on placing sculpture, and experts differ on where a piece might go. We are constrained by the streetscape, but also find it accommodating to placing work. The City will approve the actual locations and from there, we can begin to determine how to set the work.

Some cities use an indigenous rock such as quartz or limestone as a base to give the art height for better visibility. Some art will be placed directly on the ground, and a concrete platform is also under consideration. We will engage experienced sculptors to aid in this process. The artists will also be on location for the installation and can provide suggestions based on how they planned to lift and place the piece when building it. The final decision for site installation rests with our committee. Installation will require volunteers to help; we will also need skilled machinery operators and a setting crew. Some cities use city crews from Public Works or Park District people; others seek donors with equipment. We will be seeking a method to do this and are actively soliciting donors and volunteers.

Why is this project important to Peoria?
Sculpture Walk Peoria is all about celebrating the Peoria Warehouse District. Its success has been demonstrated by its designation on the National Register of Historic Places, the approaching completion of the infrastructure project, the formation of the Downtown Development Corporation and ongoing announcements of building renovation projects. The transformation of the Warehouse District into a vibrant commercial and residential community is clearly on a path to success. The overall intent is to support the goals of the Warehouse District becoming a Peoria destination and to grow its economic impact.

Other public art displays and sculptures already exist in Peoria—and so Sculpture Walk Peoria is ideal for the Warehouse District, since it is a growth sector in downtown Peoria. It can also serve as a link or portal to other collections, such as the sculptures at the Peoria Riverfront Museum, the Downtown Living Neighborhood Association Art Walk, the Peoria Civic Center, Peoria Historical Society trolley routes, Bradley University, etc.

How will funds be raised for the launch and for long-term sustainability?
We will seek funds from citizens and businesses and apply for grants where applicable. We are actively seeking 10 charter sponsors to make Sculpture Walk Peoria a reality. As of this interview, three charter sponsors have already committed to support this initiative. We invite the public and businesses to join with Sculpture Walk Peoria and become charter sponsor members.

Envisioning the future… What would you like to see happen?
In the future, we hope to expand from the initial 10 sculptures to a much larger number for a richer experience—just as Sioux Falls has expanded from 10 to 55 over the past decade. We also hope to expand the documentation available about all the sculptures and public art in the Peoria area with maps that support both walking and driving tours. Our vision is that, in the future, there will many walks for public art, sculpture, murals and architecture linked together. Ideally, patrons would be able to follow along the paths with docent devices (smartphone, tablet, watch, etc.) to interact with works and digital media in the forms of recorded interviews, educational resources, artist statements and so forth. Another idea could include transportation to expand the geography and number of works.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Sculpture Walk Peoria will be supported by donors and volunteers. There is room for everyone to participate—through cash donations, in-kind donations or volunteer hours. Look for more information on the Sculpture Walk Peoria webpage at artspartners.net or our Facebook page. a&s

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