Frances Whitehead brings the methods, mindsets, and strategies of contemporary art practice to the process of shaping the future city. Questions of sustainability, culture change, and participation animate her work as she considers the surrounding community, the landscape, and the interdependency of multiple ecologies in the post-industrial city. Whitehead’s cutting-edge work integrates art and sustainability, as she traverses disciplines to engage with engineers, scientists, landscape architects, urban designers, and city officials in order to hybridize art, design, science, and civic engagement, for the public good.
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) joins The Trust for Public Land, City of Chicago, and the Chicago Park District to announce an unprecedented collaboration on a major public greenway adapted from an unused, elevated rail line. Commissioned as Lead Artist on the design team, Whitehead has worked with Collins Engineers and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates to envision the arts and culture as an integrative framework for reimagined civic infrastructure. The result is The 606—a 2.7-mile, multiuse recreational trail and park system that stretches east to west through four neighborhoods on Chicago’s Northwest Side.
Applying this collaborative, artistic sensibility, Whitehead has focused on three artworks along the trail, creating cultural sites that also inspire, engage, and educate citizens.
At the western trailhead, Whitehead and the design team collaborated with Adler Planetarium to create a mounded solar observatory driven by earthly and celestial possibilities. Constructed from re-used soil and rubble, the spiraling seasonal earthwork will re-ground audiences in their geographic and cultural reality.
At the eastern end, Whitehead and the team are joined by skate park designer Spohn Ranch, to create a wheel-friendly, multigenerational skate park. Whitehead’s concept maximizes the performance of high-carbon cement skate structures through a radically multifunctional program. The plaza-style skate park doubles as a performance venue, complete with sculptural elements that also perform, unfolding into audio and lighting facilities.
Connecting these two terminal sites, Whitehead is collaborating with Chicago Wilderness and the USA National Phenologic Network to actualize a climate-monitoring installation. An east/west line of 453 temperature-sensitive, native, flowering trees (Apple Serviceberry) form the core of the project, which will visualize Chicago’s famous lake effect with a five-day bloom-spread. This civic experiment deploys a seasonal spectacle to engage citizens and scientists alike in understanding microclimate over the next 100 years.
Arts integration for The 606
Whitehead’s integrative approach extends the grassroots vision for the project, that The 606 be a “Living Work of Art.” Through an experiential approach, Whitehead is working to identify opportunities for other artists on The 606. Possibilities include a series of invitational commissions, open-calls for temporary, revolving, and participatory works, and partner-led programming.
Whitehead’s work on The 606 is a model for how artists can contribute to the creation of new public spaces and civic engagement, to reimagine the future city.
About The Trust for Public Land
For more than 40 years, The Trust for Public Land has worked in cities and suburbs across America to ensure that everyone enjoys close-to-home access to a park, playground, or natural area.
About The City of Chicago, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events
The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special events is dedicated to enriching Chicago’s artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy.
About The Chicago Park District
The Chicago Park District owns more than 8,100 acres of green space, making it one of the largest municipal park managers in the nation.
About Frances Whitehead
Frances Whitehead is an artist who focuses on publicly engaged projects toward a sustainable future. She works collaboratively as ARTetal Studio and is Professor of Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).
About the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
A leader in educating artists, designers, and scholars since 1866, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago offers nationally accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees built on an interdisciplinary approach to art and design.
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