Artists seek funds to restore Joliet’s public art
BY JANET LUNDQUIST email@example.com October 13, 2013 7:24PM
A photo in the 1946 Joliet Township High School yearbook that inspired Tony Gutierrez's mural. | Supplied image
Updated: November 15, 2013 6:18AM
Joliet’s outdoor art is starting to crumble and rot, and there are few volunteers or donors stepping up to save it.
Debra Kuypers, administrator of the Friends of Community Public Art in Joliet, whose artists have done the city-commissioned murals, is on a mission to prevent the art from being lost.
Supporters of local artworks aren’t hard to find, but supporters with money that they’re willing to donate to the cause are.
“A lot of people are hurting, and art’s not something they want to put their money into,” Kuypers said. “But it would be a shame to see all these murals in Joliet fall apart.”
Tony Gutierrez and his high school friends are pictured in a mural on Jefferson Street near the Slammers’ stadium. Gutierrez played basketball for Joliet Township High School, Joliet Junior College and Illinois State University in the 1940s.
He returned to Joliet and taught in the city’s grade and high schools until he became principal of Joliet Township High School in the 1980s. Now retired, he still lives in Joliet.
Gutierrez, 85, said he would like to see his mural and the others restored and maintained.
“I noticed that they need a lot of care,” he said. “I don’t know where the funds would come from for that. I just thought the city would keep them up.”
Prior to the Great Recession, the city contracted with the local artist organization over several years to produce artwork throughout Joliet, including the murals and bronze statues, said James Haller, the city’s director of community and economic development.
But when the economy dried up, so did the city’s money for extras. Joliet stopped commissioning the artwork in 2008.
“The dilemma that we have now is, things haven’t gotten any better. We’re still having a hard time meeting our obligations,” Haller said. “We’re stable ... but barely making it.”
He said if the economy improves, the city could pitch in for things such as public art restoration on a limited basis.
This past spring, the Friends of Community Public Art held a fundraiser that generated enough money to start restoration of the city’s Irish heritage mural at the southeast corner of Chicago and Clinton streets.
The group plans to buy rot-resistant panels for the murals it restores, Kuypers said. It costs $50 per square foot to completely restore a mural, much less if it needs partial restoration, she said.
Kuypers said the Irish heritage mural needs an overhaul because it has not been caulked around the edges annually. The caulk wore away and water seeped in behind the wooden panels, rotting them, she said.
The artists organization doesn’t have the money or manpower to do regular caulking on the city murals, which number more than 40, she said.
Kuypers said another private fundraising campaign is underway for a complete restoration of the Mexican heritage mural, and the sports-themed murals, which are painted on the concrete walls of viaducts, are “totally destroyed.”
She and other artists are brainstorming restoration ideas, if and when funds become available.
Supporters can find the Friends group at 310 Ottawa St., where there’s a gallery of small-scale models of the bronze statues and the murals around town as well as art books featuring the murals and sculpture.
The Friends website (fcpaonline.org) includes a page with photos of the murals and information about the organization. Anyone interested in learning more about the artwork or organizing a fundraiser may contact Kuypers at 708-516-6318.