Elgin's 2021 budget envisions most park facilities closed but Black Lives Matter art

Posted11/19/2020 5:00 AM

The next year of recreation in Elgin will center more on playgrounds and hikes than summer camps and basketball leagues as nearly all park facilities will remain closed. But city art projects centered on the Black Lives Matter movement may provide residents with a different diversion as well as a reflection on some contemporary history.

Fans of Elgin's parks already know almost all programs and buildings closed in March in response to pandemic mitigation plans. There is no expectation for them to reopen as normal in 2021, city officials said Wednesday.


Maria Cumpata, who leads the parks department, said 2021 will continue to force staff to re-imagine recreation as an almost exclusively outdoor activity. That means a shift toward addressing the increased use of playgrounds and fields.

Lords Park pool will remain closed in 2021 no matter what happens with the pandemic to help cut costs in response to the loss of income. The larger Wing Park pool may open depending on the status of the virus.

Indoor fitness center users will likely retain limited access. Staff will also focus on larger outdoor events, such as the Little Park of Horrors Halloween drive-through event that drew an estimated 25,000 people.

"All of these proposals are made with a heavy heart," Cumpata said. "The face of parks and recreation will be changed for a good, long time. When we are back to normal it will not be the normal we have experienced in the past."

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In addition to the community's loss of a wide range of athletic activities, the parks department will see nearly a 60% loss of income this year. That translates into furloughs for most of the department's full-time employees. Much of that is likely to continue into 2021.

The job loss perhaps felt more widely by the city will be the slashing of about 250 part-time jobs and 350 seasonal positions. Many of those positions exist as first-time jobs for area youths, a major contributor in making the parks department one of the largest employers of part-time workers in the area.

But where athletic opportunities will be minimized, the local arts scene will step up to try to fill the gap.

The Hemmens Cultural Center will spend 2021 focusing on the recent past. The facility will ramp up livestream shows throughout the year. But a three-pronged public art campaign will be the star of the facility's efforts next year.

It begins with the production of a 30-minute documentary on the Black Lives Matter protests in Elgin earlier this year. That documentary will pair with inspiration from public on boarded-up businesses during the protests for a new mural in the downtown pocket park. That mural will be unveiled the Friday before the city's Juneteenth event. The community will be invited to participate in the actual painting of the mural. Finally, the city will place four discussion cubes throughout the city where people can record their thoughts and memories of the protests.

City council member Corey Dixon said the projects will further the city's dialogue about race and inequality.

"This is a testament to how wonderful our city is, how peaceful our protests were," Dixon said.


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