It's costing more money to maintain Naperville's collection of outdoor public art

Dogs. Sun. Rain. Skateboarders. Soda pop. Salt. Snow. Cars. Birds. Trees. Rust. Vandalism. Demolition. Redevelopment.

Put a painting, mosaic or sculpture in an outdoor public place and these are just some of the pitfalls that can befall it, deface it or ultimately spell its demise.

For groups such as the Century Walk Corp., which has installed pieces of public art at four dozen spots in Naperville over the past 22 years, preserving and protecting that art is an ongoing and sometimes expensive investment.

That reality is beginning to hit home with the Naperville City Council, even as Century Walk announced plans to install two more pieces of public art this year.

In 2016, the city started to set aside about $50,000 a year for maintenance of public art from its food and beverage tax revenue, which is pooled into a fund named for the activities it supports - Special Events and Cultural Amenities.

Since its founding in 1996, Century Walk has installed works at 48 locations, some of which involve several pieces by large numbers of artists, and others that involve intricate or large-scale works by individual talents.

All those sites are kept in tiptop shape largely thanks to the work of Century Walk Curator Dodie Mondero.

With 30 of the sites on public property of entities such as the city, school districts and the park district, Mayor Steve Chirico says the approach is working.

Others on the council agree, but some say there should be a stronger focus on planning for the future of Naperville's outdoor art, setting aside money for maintenance or requiring future projects to come with some sort of endowment for their long-term care. Century Walk Chairman Brand Bobosky, for his part, wants the city's maintenance fund increased and coupled with money for new art creation, to the tune of $200,000 a year.

Chirico said maintenance money at that level isn't warranted yet.

"As more pieces are added they might come back and say it will cost more as they start to age," Chirico said. "Today it seems to be working."

One new piece coming to the city this year involves the completion of a project begun in 2010: the KidsMatter Way-finding Murals in the western elevator lobbies and stairwells of the Van Buren parking deck.

Also scheduled for this year is the addition of two new works: Harmony Park along the Riverwalk, which is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Naperville in partnership with Century Walk, and "Laughing Lincoln" in Central Park, a project led by the Wehrli family and Century Walk in honor of the late Don Wehrli.

"We need to have a long-term plan," council member John Krummen said, "because we are very grateful for the gifts, but then we have to take care of them."

A new work of art - be it a playable xylophone sculpture like the four pieces of Harmony Park that are expected to be installed this fall, or a solid sculpture of a historical figure like the "Laughing Lincoln" scheduled for dedication on Dec. 2 - is more like a living thing than many may realize, city council member Judith Brodhead said.

"It's a little bit like being given a puppy," she said. "It's going to need care, and things that are unexpected might occur as well."

For the 14 pieces of public art - 12 of them in the Century Walk collection - that sit on Naperville Park District property, the district is spending roughly $3,225 on maintenance this year. The city reimburses the park district for five of the more labor-intensive pieces totaling $2,125.

If not for vandals or skateboarders, Midwestern weather or animals, some of these pieces wouldn't need as much work, Bobosky says.

But skateboarders have chipped away at the mosaic tiles of the sculpture bench "River Reveries" on Jackson Avenue near Egg Harbor. Bird poop, dog pee and tree sap have damaged 22 sculptures that received a professional cleaning in 2015 by a crew using fire, water and wax.

Vandals have stolen sculpted pairs of glasses from at least two works and a "one-way" sign that accompanied another, but art patrons let those discretions go. With so much of the art near downtown bars, where the night life scene has quieted after a period of rowdiness about four years ago, Bobosky said he's grateful the artworks largely are respected for the beauty they bring.

"We've been very fortunate," he said. "We're thankful people have left them alone."

But time still takes its toll.

In the past three years, Mondero has repaired the broken tiles on the bench damaged by skateboards, rebuilt a wall called "Man's Search for Knowledge Through the Ages" that was damaged by a vehicle, repainted two murals, bolted the arm of a sculpted man to hold it in place and cleaned several plaques.

This year he plans to remove rust on a steel piece symbolizing business, industry and households, restore a mural on the east side of The Lantern tavern and fix salt damage on a metal piece in an alleyway.

"Through the process of each repair," he said, "I brought it back to its glory."

What it takes to keep Naperville's outdoor art in shining shape

Before he applied marbleizing paint in 2015, the base of the "Veterans Valor" sculpture was showing damage to the trained eye of artist and Century Walk Corp. Curator Dodie Mondero. Courtesy of Dodie Mondero
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