Art long has been a passion for Wendy Nadeau.
She studied it at North Central College; she still paints in acrylics for friends and family.
So a few years ago, when she was working for the Lisle Area Chamber of Commerce, she was in her glory.
Organizations all over the area, including her own, were sponsoring outdoor public art projects to raise money for good causes. It started with cows in Chicago. Then there were baby giraffes and carousel horses in Naperville. Cars in Elmhurst. Birdhouses and benches in Lisle.
The idea was always the same: businesses purchased the sculptures and artists volunteered to decorate them. The pieces then went on display for the summer along downtown streets and were auctioned in the fall to raise money for groups such as the United Way.
And then it stopped. Maybe it was the economy, maybe it was overkill, maybe it was a combination of things, but suddenly community art projects became a lot like Jimmy Hoffa: dead as a doornail and really hard to find.
But Nadeau wasn't quite ready to toss dirt on the idea of using public art to raise awareness and money -- at least in Lisle.
Now an administrative assistant and event coordinator for Lisle Park District, she started thinking about reviving the whole concept as a way to generate money and publicity for the district's Partners for Parks.
Founded in 1999, the nonprofit group assists the district in many ways, from providing funding to buy a van for teen programs to donating money for a playground at a new preschool. But mostly the group focuses on providing $250 scholarships for families that otherwise couldn't afford pool passes, swimming lessons or other park district programs.
Lisa Leone, a park district employee and a member of the Partners board of directors, says the group usually provides about $3,000 a year in financial aid but doesn't hesitate to go beyond that if there's a genuine need.
With that in mind, Nadeau pitched the idea of having area businesses and civic groups purchase 21 decorative wooden wheelbarrows, each about 4 feet long and 2 feet wide, find volunteer artists to decorate them, put them on display throughout the community this summer and then auction them on Sept. 7 as part of the Art in the Park event scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m. in Community Park near Route 53 and Short Street.
All proceeds from the auction will go to Partners for Parks.
Leone says the foundation was thrilled.
"We're always looking for something to really sink our teeth into," she says.
Nadeau helped get the wheelbarrow rolling by painting three of them herself, one featuring hot-air balloons on behalf of the Eyes to the Skies festival, one featuring a patriotic theme for the Rotary Club, and one honoring Chicago's sports teams for the park district.
She says the project seems to have generated excitement among both businesses and artists, and many of the pieces already are on display, including several in the park district's headquarters and others in store windows along Main Street.
No one's quite sure how much money the project will raise, but Nadeau says she's hoping for a couple thousand dollars.
"They'll make great planters for your yard," Nadeau says, and then she lets her art background kick in. "They also make really nice garden art."