Illinois Road Trip Round-Up – Outdoor Art
By Katie Arvia published July 14, 2020
We’ve been “All In for Illinois” during the pandemic, but now that we're in Phase 4, we’re ready to enjoy our state safely. Check-in every Tuesday for an Illinois Road Trip Round-Up on themed topics showcasing eighteen destinations across Illinois. This week, we’re touring some of the state's must-see outdoor art! So pack up the family, bring your masks and get ready for a road trip!
Art is everywhere in Chicago Southland! In Homewood, you’ll find the world’s largest collection of Richard Haas murals. Haas, a celebrated painter, specializes in large, illusion murals. Stroll through the quaint streets of downtown Homewood and find all 15 of his creations! A short drive away is the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park, a collection of 30 masterworks of large-scale sculptures, situated throughout 100 acres of prairie landscape. See popular works of art, like the giant Paul Bunyan sculpture. Other outdoor artwork includes the Flossmoor Sculpture Gardens, the Art Garden of Palos Heights and Tinley Park’s annual “Benches on the Avenue.” Chicago Southland is truly a work of art!
A tour of the Aurora Area is a feast for the senses. Enjoy a robust collection of murals and freshly painted surfaces, from walls to utility boxes, featuring art provided by local and national talents commissioned by Aurora Public Art throughout downtown Aurora. Highlights include Bunnie Reiss’ whimsical natural landscape painted on the west wall of the Fox River Trail underpass at New York Street, Ruben Aguirre’s abstract piece at Broadway and Benton, the streetscape on LaSalle by Joshua Schultz and Sam Cervantes’ angelic wings on the wall of La France Bakery at Galena and Broadway. Situated across Benton Street from SciTech Hands-On Museum, Christian Tobin’s permanent installation Isaac2 / Swimming Stones mystifies and captivates, blending physical science with artistic beauty. Public sculptures honoring Aurora’s past can be found at Phillips Park and elsewhere throughout the city. Take a self-guided architecture tour and engage with the history of design through decades of development and building styles. For more information and to plan your visit, go to EnjoyAurora.com.
Bloomington-Normal is home to many gorgeous murals, sculptures and public art pieces. A statue showing the friendship of Abraham Lincoln and his McLean County friends Jesse Fell and David Davis, sculpted by Andrew Jumonville, stands in front of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts for the public to view. Illinois State University is filled with outdoor artwork for anyone to appreciate as they tour the campus. Take a trip to Downtown Bloomington to admire and snap a picture with 6-foot tall corn on the cob – a sculpture called Star-Crossed Pollinators, created by Herb Eaton. Head a few blocks west of Downtown and find a mural created by 20 young local artists from the Youth Mural Project. There’s beauty all around Bloomington-Normal! A day spent admiring our outdoor art is a day well spent.
VISIT CHAMPAIGN COUNTY
Art lives here in the greater Champaign County area. We're lucky to have iconic murals and outdoor sculptures all over our community, including the Outside of Ordinary mural outside of our office! The mural features a number of attractions from across the area, including The Virginia Theater, Hardy's Reindeer Ranch and the Japan House at U of I. The mural is a favorite spot to snap selfies while enjoying downtown Champaign. Not too far from the mural is another iconic member of downtown: Mr. Eggwards! This posh looking egg took time to mask-up while we're #AllInIllinois, garnishing a number of social media hits. Lastly, if you're up for a challenge, take our social-distancing minded Public Art League Sculpture Scavenger Hunt!
CHICAGO NORTH SHORE
The City of Evanston, home of Northwestern University and the urban border town of Chicago is a renowned artist town and home to The Big Picture: A Mural Treasure Hunt. This mural hunt covers very different, creative and explosive pieces of public art and you can answer fun questions and follow prompts from your phone and learn. A short drive away, visit the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park. This beautiful park runs for two miles and displays more than 60 sculptures by artists of local, national and international reputation. A lovely landscaped and easily accessible place to stroll, rollerblade or bicycle. Touching the art is encouraged!
MEET CHICAGO NORTHWEST
The Chicago Northwest region is blessed with multiple outdoor art exhibits. The Chicago Athenaeum International Sculpture Park is dedicated to enhancing the value of art education. It offers 16 sculptures from American and International sculptors scattered throughout the Village of Schaumburg grounds. While Trickster Cultural Center features three astonishing outdoor sculptures that are absolutely worthy of a stop: "The Heart of the Basket Maker," "Splash" and "Since Ever Since." The Village of Streamwood has an empowering war memorial dedicated to honoring all veterans. Near the main entrance, a War Dog Memorial statue pays tribute to all of the canine companions in the military.
Walk our gallery! These 29 sculptures, which bring life to the streets of Effingham, were created by some of the Midwest’s most well-known sculptors (and some of its best-kept secrets, as well). Each one is part of the annual Sculptures on the Avenues outdoor exhibition. Going into its 22nd year, Sculptures on the Avenues is a self-guided walking tour that winds in and out of the Downtown Effingham area, stopping at City Hall. Pause here, at 201 E. Jefferson Avenue, to view the piece that started it all... the “Flame of Hope." Culture guides and maps are available at the Effingham Visitors Center.
Downtown Elgin has been a center of outdoor public art. One of our most recognizable pieces is titled “Which Way” located near the Hemmens home of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, and numerous art events like theatre and dance. The artist Joanna White says this about her work: "I tend to approach public art from the direction of my theatre background. I see the space, envision a story that could be told and attempt to create a piece that reflects the environment in which it lives. Which Way is meant to appear as if it belongs here, it's intended to be playful as well as intriguing, to reflect the idea of inclusion and allow for individual stories." Visit our website for more information on our Public Arts Tour!
GREAT RIVERS AND ROUTES
Sailing down the mighty Mississippi River in Alton is a paddlewheel steamboat bearing the city’s name. Except the boat isn’t actually on the river. Instead, it is an outdoor mural soaring five stories high on the Riverbend Head Start & Family Services building, located on Landmarks Boulevard near the city riverfront. The mural is a nod to Alton’s historic past as a thriving river community which, at one time, rivaled nearby St. Louis as an important river port. The mural greets visitors to the city as they cross the Clark Bridge from Missouri.
The towns of Pontiac and Streator are filled with murals painted by the world-famous Walldogs. Once a year, the Walldogs make their way to a town to bring local people, places and products to life through outdoor paintings. When in Pontiac, make sure to visit the backside of the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and its mural that features the nation’s largest Route 66 Painted Shield. Streator’s murals are the most recent, including ones that feature the discoverer of the ninth planet, Pluto, and the Musical Director of Disney’s Fantasia.
ILLINOISouth is home to dozens of amazing artists. Some of the more unique art lies in Granite City’s Art and Design District, which is home to a large clown head and a giant operating swing that can fit ten people! Speaking of unique, you’ll see many pieces of folk art on display throughout the Village of Palestine. Steve Meadows, owner of S.D. Meadows Folk Art Gallery, has methodically scattered his artwork in town – everything from pieces that look like robots, to a creature that has a giant tongue. Then, of course, there are fantastic murals in several communities. Belleville’s Mural Project features several beautiful murals that can be found in many spots throughout the city. Last but certainly not least, there’s Marshall – which has 27 murals and 40 painted lions showcased everywhere you look. We hope you enjoy the art!
Sprinkled throughout Jacksonville’s Historic Downtown you will find twelve beautiful outdoor painted murals on the sides of buildings. If you are walking around the square, with every corner you turn you might come face to face with one of our “Walldog Murals." Starting in 2016, Jacksonville Main Street hosted artists known as Letterheads, or “Walldogs," to display some heritage-based public art. Throughout the historic central business district, surrounding the downtown square the walls are painted with murals that highlight Jacksonville’s rich history. Keep an eye out, too, because Jacksonville Main Street intends to keep adding to the collection, so a new piece just might be getting painted as you watch! Visit JacksonvilleIL.org for more information!
VISIT MCHENRY COUNTY
Woodstock on Film and on the Stage Mural and Sculpture Garden features Woodstock’s cultural legends including Orson Welles, Chester Gould, Bill Murray and Groundhog Day, Geraldine Page, Paul Newman and so many more. Visitors from all over flock to Woodstock to revel in all things Groundhog Day the movie. While visiting the filming locations you must visit the mural and snap a photo with Ned Ryerson’s friendly face.
The Peoria area is filled with fantastic murals and sculptures by local artists that are not only beautiful to look at but also can make for some great pictures to up your Instagram game and spread positive vibes. ArtsPartners of Central Illinois brings nine large scale sculptures from artists around the country to downtown Peoria every year for the Sculpture Walk Peoria and the 2020 sculptures are officially here! Walk the walk and take a self-guided tour narrated by the artists explaining the inspiration behind their sculptures. Big Picture Peoria is changing the face of Peoria one wall at a time. Not only are they educating the community and youth about the arts but Big Picture is also responsible for the majority of murals in the central Illinois area. You can even check out the Mural Map of Peoria by Big Picture with pictures of the murals, descriptions of each mural and the exact address of where the murals are located so you can hunt them down easily! Read Discover Peoria’s Mural Walk blog to learn more about which murals we love to take pictures at!
VISIT QUAD CITIES
The cultural life of the Quad-Cities is lifted in part by public art that is on permanent and temporary display throughout the region, thanks to Quad City Arts’ public sculpture program. The Quad City Arts site also provides directions to where each sculpture is located. The Quad Cities prides itself on its arts and cultural offerings. From museums, theatre, music and artistic outdoor experiences, lovers of the creative spirit will be at home in the QC. Outdoor public art provides opportunities for selfies and for simply appreciating and experiencing the works of talented artists in outdoor settings. You will find them along the Mississippi Riverfront and in area parks and downtowns. The Metro Arts program in the region has provided area youth 15-21 years old with paid summer apprenticeships in various arts disciplines. For five weeks, area youth work together in groups to complete art projects under the supervision and mentorship of professional artists. Their work has created various murals around the QC. For more information about the Quad Cities go to VisitQuadCities.com.
If you’re on the hunt for an abundance of unique, public art pieces in a close area, look no further than downtown Rockford! In 2019, a brand-new event called "CRE8IV: transformational ART" brought eight lead artists to the downtown Rockford area to create nine large-scale murals. These murals turned walls that were once plain into colorful, unique pieces of art available for anyone to view. Also scattered around the downtown area are 13 one-of-a-kind sculptures created by several different artists throughout the Midwest. Both the sculptures and murals are all within walking distance of each other, so those looking to view some art don’t need to travel too far! Maps of the sculpture and mural locations can be downloaded on the GoRockford.com website.
The Williamson County outdoor art scene continues to grow and bring extra charm to our vibrant area! Beautifully crafted statues can be found throughout our communities, paying tribute to notable local figures as well as esteemed veterans. Outdoor murals are increasing in popularity in our downtown districts. These vivid works of art are a must-see and great for those trendy Instagram shots! During the summer and fall seasons, you’ll also find a number of outdoor performing art events to enjoy! Whether you’re looking for a little history, local creativity or live music, you’ll find it all when you visitSI!
Enjoy the freedom of movement and open spaces as you view the amazing street art of Springfield. We have so many talented artists in our town that help beautify our city! Springfield has a vibrant and varied art scene including art galleries, local theatre and outdoor theatre. Although the current conditions have forced many to be put on pause, the amazing outdoor art is alive and well. Art Alley is a concept that came to life during an event in 2017 to help raise funds to benefit downtown revitalization. It’s a pop-up art event in which artists compete to create a mural in one day and unveil it during a reception that night. Each year the murals change, making this a great spot to visit, wander through and take pictures of the incredible artwork! Located off 5th Street between Adams and Washington, this is an ideal place to start your journey. Enjoy our blog of other street art visuals and plan to take them all in.