Wilmette trustees began to paint a picture of what an artistic addition to the village’s downtown landscape may entail during their Tuesday, Sept. 26 meeting.
Trustees quickly came to a general consensus that they support the concept of a public mural in Veteran’s Park, 1111 Central Ave., and by the meeting’s conclusion, directed village staff to begin gathering nominations for an ad hoc committee that will guide the search for a muralist and explore artwork possibilities.
Trustees’ show of support for the mural was prefaced by a short background presentation from Wilmette Village Manager Mike Braiman, who told the board that village staff see the concept of adding public art as “an extension of our economic development efforts in the downtown.”
“We, as a staff, see this as an opportunity to create a unique community gathering space at Veteran’s Park and to do so at no cost to our taxpayers through the fundraising efforts from the Sesquicentennial Committee as well as support from the Wilmette Rotary Club,” Braiman said at the meeting.
Exploration of a public mural in Wilmette started in early 2021 when members of the village’s Sesquicentennial Committee contacted staff to discuss public improvement projects that could be a part of the town’s 150th celebration.
Committee members first envisioned painting a mural in Ouilmette Way, a renovated, multi-use path in downtown Wilmette, but according to Braiman’s village memo, “agreements could not be made with the building owners for permanent installations.”
But the idea came back into discussion earlier this year when committee members Beth Drucker and Julie Wolf met with Braiman and a muralist to tour downtown and consider possible locations for public art. From there, Veteran’s Park became the top choice.
“We looked at various locations and opportunities and this was clearly the best option,” Braiman said, adding that he thinks if officials “decide it doesn’t work (at Veteran’s Park), we would probably put a pin in the project for right now.”
Veteran’s Park is a small parcel between commercial buildings on Central Avenue. The park is currently under construction to create a shared community space and outdoor seating for incoming restaurant EvaDean’s Bakery and Cafe.
Village officials estimated a cost for the project at approximately $40,000. Braiman detailed the funding plan to the board, noting that it will come at no cost to Wilmette taxpayers.
According to Braiman, Wilmette has roughly $34,000 in remaining funds from the Sesquicentennial Committee’s fundraising efforts and the sale of additional Ouilmette Way bricks.
Additionally, Rotary Club of Wilmette is considering a donation to the project, Braiman noted. He also said that Wilmette had previously budgeted for a $50,000 contribution to the village’s sesquicentennial but the funds went back into village coffers thanks to robust fundraising efforts.
The ad hoc committee would likely include five members under the plan laid out by Braiman. That would include representatives from the Sesquicentennial Committee and Human Relations Commission, a rotary club member, a local veteran and “someone in the community with an artistic background.”
Trustees agreed with the majority of staff’s recommendations but several did express an interest in adding another member to the committee with an art background. A few small-scale reservations were also brought forward from the board.
Trustee Gina Kennedy said she strongly supports the project but said “we don’t want art by committee,” adding that she hopes the committee will not micromanage the artist’s work.
After also expressing strong support, Trustee Stephen Leonard said he would like the committee to “be charged with starting at ground zero and challenging pretty much everything about this project.” He shared hopes that it will explore budget and whether or not to use a professional muralist or members of the community — potentially even students.
One resident spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, detailing his approval of the project.
“I think public art really does a lot for a community and I really have no art background but I’ve learned that it really is helpful in many ways,” George Pearce said. “I think it would be great to have it at this location.”
Trustees also supporetd the proposed location.
“We just don’t have that many highly visible spaces in downtown Wilmette and I’m really not particularly interested in having it someplace distant from the downtown,” Kennedy said. “Since we don’t do this very often, I think it deserves to have a fairly high profile in the community and short of that site, I don’t know that there’s anything that could compare.”
The goal is to get the project off the ground in the spring of 2024, according to Braiman. Local officials also hope the mural could bring even more vibrancy to downtown Wilmette — throughout all parts of the day.
“We know a lot of our neighbors look to Wilmette as a top destination and are trying to replicate what we have and we want to stay fresh, stay vibrant and make sure people want to continue to spend their time here — not just at night, but also during the day,” he said.
“One of the things we’ve really been excited about over the past year is increasing daytime business retail activity … and we see this mural in Veteran’s Park as a way to further support and encourage that daytime population.”
The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.
Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.
Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.
Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.