Naperville mayor proposes guaranteed funding for Century Walk art, upkeep
Naperville elected officials are poised to consider a deal next month that would pledge $150,000 annually to Century Walk Corp. for the maintenance and creation of public art.
Mayor Steve Chirico has proposed designating the nonprofit as a city obligation for three years starting in 2022, meaning it would be guaranteed funding through the Special Events and Cultural Amenities program.
Century Walk, which has sponsored 51 pieces of artwork in Naperville since 1996, currently receives $50,000 annually for the maintenance of its collection. Chirico said he wants to offer an additional $100,000 to support new public art on public property, with caveats to ensure adequate oversight.
Some council members are questioning the timing and reasoning behind the mayor's request, pointing to a newly formed task force working to develop a public art program. The panel is slated to present recommendations this fall for how artwork should be selected, funded and administered in Naperville.
"Why we would try to preempt that by two months doesn't make a lot of sense," Councilman Patrick Kelly said. "It's no secret that public art has been a little bit of a contentious issue, and I think trying to rush that process only makes it more so."
In a plan proposed in March, Century Walk asked for an annual city contribution of $200,000 to carry out its mission over the next decade. The council shot down the request at the time, instead voting 6-3 in favor of exploring a comprehensive citywide process with broader community input.
But Chirico, who supported Century Walk's initial plan, said he believes the nonprofit and the task force can move forward on parallel tracks.
After waiting 62 days to broach the topic again, he directed staff members last week to add Century Walk as a city obligation alongside agencies such as the Naperville Municipal Band and Naper Settlement. His request was backed by four council members: Paul Hinterlong, Jennifer Bruzan Taylor, Patty Gustin and Paul Leong.
The proposed list of initiatives that would be guaranteed special events funding is expected to be considered Aug. 17.
"I'm very comfortable with continuing to support Century Walk and all the good work they've done for our community while the city is thinking about what the whole future of our public art program will look like," Chirico said. "I think these are two separate issues."
Century Walk historically has had to apply for grant funding, following the same process as festivals, art programs and other entities seeking a portion of the city's 1% food and beverage tax revenue. But organization leaders say the amount awarded has been inconsistent and lower than requested in recent years, making it difficult to bring ideas to fruition.
By offering consistent funding, Chirico said, the nonprofit will be in a better position to plan ahead and take on new art projects.
Century Walk would have to provide an audited financial statement each year, and a city council liaison would be assigned to the nonprofit's board for financial oversight, he said. The mayor also suggested a three-year sunset clause.
Councilman Ian Holzhauer acknowledged the significance of Century Walk's work and said there's "no question" a comprehensive plan is needed to maintain and expand Naperville's collection of art.
"By the same token, long-range planning -- particularly planning that's funded with taxpayer money -- requires careful attention to detail," he said. "And in our enthusiasm to support art, I worry that we are bypassing a process."