Charity in the Neighborhood
Even before its official launch, Chicago's latest public art exhibit got rave reviews from tourists and Chicagoans alike, as artist-painted couches, chairs and TV sets are beginning to fill downtown sidewalks.
Following the success of 1999's "Cows on Parade" exhibit, "Suite Home Chicago: An International Exhibition of Street Furniture," featured 500 pieces of colorful fiberglass furniture art that will be auctioned for charity in October.
"It's something different, interesting, refreshing," said Anita Soyka of Chicago. Soyka Tuesday morning was admiring a mosaic-designed chair and ottoman fashioned with pieces of brightly colored red glass, titled "soFA, so good" by Jeffrey Conroy, at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Huron Street. "It's just another thing for tourists to come to visit our city for," she said.
City officials hoped "Suite Home" would produce a financial return similar to that of "Cows on Parade."
"The economic impact of the cows was about $200 million in revenue from people who came to view them, and (the cows) raised $3.5 million for charity," said Jill Hurwitz, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, the city agency organizing the latest exhibit.
As of Tuesday morning, 80 pieces were out on the streets, Hurwitz said. Priscilla Hagen and Trudy Stuckey, of Watseka, Ill., said they enjoyed having a place to sit and relax while waiting for the stores on Michigan Avenue to open.
"We can sit and figure out our train schedule for later," Hagen said, as she relaxed on a sofa adorned with bright splashes of color on a black backdrop, also at Michigan and Huron. The piece, dubbed "Our Hometown," was created by artist Maryanne Warton.
Sonja Wallner, a flight attendant from Vienna, Austria, said she loves the idea of public art and has been keeping tabs on different exhibits that have followed "Cows on Parade" in cities like New York, Toronto and a few in Europe.
"The colors are great and very eye-catching," she said of the furniture already placed along Michigan Avenue. "If I could decorate one, it would be to reflect the landscape of Austria -- lots of mountains and cows."
Like "Cows on Parade," the furniture exhibit is sponsored by businesses, organizations and individuals. Sponsorships cost $3,000 for a sofa, $2,500 for a television set and $3,000 for a chair and ottoman (always to be shown together and counted as one piece).
A sponsor can find and pay an artist independently or pick one from the pool of artists who sent in slides of their work to the Department of Cultural Affairs.
While people said they enjoy the suite concept, some said they are still partial to the cows.
"I preferred the cows because they were cuter," said Edith Johnson, of Chicago, as she admired artist Paul Meyer's "Hot dog with everything," a brightly colored sofa with a life-size hot dog character reclining across it.
The furniture is cute and different, but the cows were great," said Laura Lee, of Chicago, who was snapping photos of her parents on an Egyptian-style chair and ottoman on Oak Street.
"If I could make one change to the design though, I would make the sofas more comfortable," Lee said.
A charity auction event for the furniture will be held on www.metromix.com in October, followed by a live auction by Sotheby's on Oct. 20 at the Chicago Theater.