Making Public Art that Works

December 11, 2015 | by the Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Students in Assistant Professor Dustan Creech’s Introduction to Sculpture class are getting a real-world lesson in designing for public spaces, thanks to a collaboration with the Elmhurst Park District.

Earlier this year, the Park District invited Creech’s students to submit designs for a functionally artistic bike rack to take up residence in a new playground at Butterfield Park, in Elmhurst’s southeast corner. The challenge for Creech’s class was to work within the parameters set by the park district for size, ease of use, and safety.

“It’s real-life learning,” Creech said of the project. “They’re learning what goes into proposing public work. I’m excited for them to see the process in action.”

Each of Creech’s 10 students spent part of Fall Term working on designs for the bike rack, which is to be placed in Butterfield Park’s new Playground for Everyone, a facility created to serve children with special needs. The students fashioned copper wire models of their designs, giving them an opportunity to exercise their soldering skills.

Representatives from the park district visited Creech’s class in November to review and critique the student work.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how innovative the designs were,” said Ginger Wade, director of marketing and communications at the Park District. One proposal stood out from the others, however. Student Jocelyne Mandujano proposed a bike rack that evoked a classic childhood crafts project, a paper chain of cutout child-like figures holding hands. Its suitability for the site made it the clear choice for Wade and others at the Park District.

“Not only was it good, but it was a great fit for this playground,” Wade said. “It conveys a message that goes beyond just being a bike rack. It’s all about inclusion.”

As a result of subsequent brainstorming sessions with Wade and Creech, Mandujano tweaked her design to highlight the message of inclusiveness, making the figures a variety of heights, shapes and colors.

When Creech announced to his class that the Elmhurst Park District had selected Mandujano’s design, she was rewarded with a round of applause from her classmates. Still ahead is the challenge of producing the bike rack, a project on which she will work with Creech. The new Playground for Everyone is slated to open in October 2016, with its student-designed bike rack in place. Meanwhile, all of the design mock-ups from Creech’s class are on display at the Frick Center at Elmhurst College.

The playground sculpture collaboration was not the first time Elmhurst College had teamed up with the Elmhurst Park District. The College has provided turf and bleachers for ball fields at Spring Creek and Butterfield parks, which serve as home fields for the softball and baseball Bluejays, respectively.

Both Creech and Wade said they hope the playground partnership continues.

“This project was a great way to remind students that there is a practical side to doing art,” Creech said. “They’re making something that will exist and be of use to people in the real world.”

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