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When someone else’s art lands in your neighborhood

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Ten sculptors have put up outdoor pieces in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood. The installation’s supposed to stay up for a year. The group says the purpose is to expose people to art that they might not be able to see otherwise. But, then again, residents never asked for the opportunity. So what happens when someone else’s art lands in your neighborhood? We report from our West Side bureau.

Before looking into how the 10 pieces are going over in East Garfield Park, I ask Chicago sculptor Terrence Karpowicz to show them to me. He led the installation.

MITCHELL: To me it looks like a huge, three-fingered claw. What is this?
KARPOWICZ: This is a sculpture by Fisher Stoltz titled “Moonbench.” I see it as a rendezvous point for the local community. They can actually come and sit down and converse.
MITCHELL: Yeah, there’s a marble bench here.
KARPOWICZ: Actually it’s granite. There is an electrical element that lights up at night so that the white marble sphere glows. Come on and sit down.
MITCHELL: Yeah, now that we’re sitting down, this granite is very cold on my fat rear end.
KARPOWICZ: It warms up in summertime.

The sculptures stand as high as 14 feet. They’re spanning a half-mile boulevard called West Franklin for the next year. The artists are all members of a group called Chicago Sculpture International.

Karpowicz takes me to a pile of rings made of industrial tubing.

KARPOWICZ: That’s a sculpture by Dusty Falwarczny. The title of the sculpture is “Scrap.” I measure that one as, probably, a three-shopping-cart operation.
MITCHELL: You measure the volume by shopping carts?
KARPOWICZ: That’s how many shopping carts it’ll take to get that to a scrap yard. Because you see a lot of hardworking men with shopping carts and they pick up debris and take it to recycling places.
MITCHELL: Have you ever lost one of your works to shopping carts?
KARPOWICZ: No, thank goodness.

And there’s more to see. Karpowicz shows me a giant, spiky sphere made of orange traffic cones. And there’s a stainless-steel piece called “Abduction.”

The installation is definitely capturing attention in the neighborhood.

MAN: Oh, man, that’s cool. Who did that?
WOMAN: It beautifies the neighborhood.
MAN: It’s really nice for the block.
GRANT: I like them.
MITCHELL: What’s your name?
GRANT: My name is Felincia Grant.
MITCHELL: Do any of the pieces stick out to you -- that you can really relate to?
GRANT: The one that’s all the way down on Franklin and Kedzie. It looks like a hook. Actually, to be honest with you, I had a nephew that was--there used to be a tree there. My nephew ran into this tree. And that’s where he died. And that piece, right there, it was put where the tree was.
MITCHELL: Does it remind you of him?
GRANT: Yeah. He had these hooked attitudes at times. He made a lot of bad choices. But he was a good kid.

It’s easy to find people who admire at least some of the 10 new sculptures in East Garfield Park. It’s harder to find folks who have a beef with the installation, but they are around.

FIELDS: My name is Cy Fields.

Fields is pastor of New Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, a few blocks southeast of the parkway.

FIELDS: It seems like they just plopped artwork in the community and just sort of said, ‘Well, here it is and, surprise, I hope you enjoy it.’ I’m not against community beautification and artwork, but I think the process and the end goal are very important. Many schools are struggling to have art classes in the schools. Can the artists come and teach the kids in East Garfield Park? Communities of color--African American and Latino--have their share of capable artists. Will their artwork be able to go to the North Side or to other communities as well? Let’s have a cultural exchange.

Fields isn’t the only one talking about race. An unemployed interior decorator named Tony Green wants to know why the sculptures ended up in his neighborhood.

GREEN: Only in the black community with no blacks involved. That’s not personal, is it?

These are fair questions. Karpowicz’s group got an alderman’s approval to put the sculptures up. But the group did not work with residents to choose the art or get them involved any other way.

MITCHELL: How about helping artists in this community display their art here on the boulevard?
KARPOWICZ: Well, if those artists were members of Chicago Sculpture International, which they certainly can become part of, they’d be the first ones on the list. It’s not about shutting anybody out. It’s about inclusivity.

But then Karpowicz tells me the group’s got a hundred and forty-nine members and not one is African American.

MITCHELL: Why is that? Something like a third or 40 percent of the population here in the city is African American.
KARPOWICZ: We don’t reach out, we don’t publicize. As a result of an exhibition like this, if there are sculptors out there who happen to be African American [and] they want to be sculptors, the door is open. It’s always open.

He points out annual memberships cost only 25 dollars.

Karpowicz and I keep talking as he shows me some sculptures toward the end of the parkway. He reminds me they’ll be up in East Garfield Park only a year.

KARPOWICZ: A lot of the people who live around here probably wouldn’t venture downtown to see sculpture. And this is our opportunity, as part of the sculpture community of Chicago, to bring art to the communities.
MITCHELL: Where we’re standing right now, we’ve got a vacant lot on this side and we’ve got another vacant lot we’re standing in right now. The population here--they’re not going to be buying these pieces afterwards.
KARPOWICZ: No, they probably won’t, Chip, but I think they’ll appreciate art a lot more. They’ll appreciate sculpture. Next time they see a piece of art, they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, we had one of those in our neighborhood once.’

If this installation works out, Karpowicz says his group’ll try to bring sculptures to other Chicago boulevards. Next time, he says, the artists will try harder to get the neighborhood involved.

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