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Public art best when kids can roam freely

Mayor A. George Pradel wowed the crowd at Highlands Elementary School while W. Brand Bobosky (right), founder and president of Century Walk, looks on.The whale is the 39th piece added to Napervillle's public art collection. 
Jane Donahue/For Sun-Times Media/Naperville Sun 20111020 Thursday,Naperville
Cathy Janek, Naperville Sun Transportation columnist.

The young girl and boy reading books outside Nichols Library have been perched there about as long as I have lived in the Naperville area.

I’ve probably walked past it a hundred times, if not more. One recent morning in a sincere effort to slow summer down a bit, I stopped for a moment and listened to the audio describing the “Reading Children” sculpture in my journey to learn more about Naperville’s history through the Century Walk collection.

The audio, which is available for each of the 40-plus sculptures, mosaics and murals, brings to life the artwork noting in vibrant detail the differences between the reading girl and the reading boy.

Most pieces are within a 2-mile area of downtown. The Century Walk doesn’t have a pre-designated route, according to Brand Bobosky, its executive director and original idea man. But its website does have an interactive map, and brochures are available that identify the location of all artwork.

“It is public art,” Bobosky said. “It’s free, and it’s available 24/7.”

Having dragged my kids through some major U.S. art museums, I really appreciated the outdoor excursion where kids can run ahead without worrying over any negative glares or stares. That led me to notice other walking tours in the area.

While wandering around downtown Aurora during my daughter’s dance recital rehearsal, I came across one of the 30 bronze tablet markers that identify each piece of the Aurora Heritage Walk.

Beginning at Aurora’s Old Post Office, which houses the SciTech Museum, 18 W. Benton St., the walk is an about 2 miles and highlights many of Aurora’s historical buildings.

Maps are available at the Aurora Public Library, Aurora City Hall, and the David L. Pierce Art and History Building. Additional background information about each building is available by dialing 630-884-8066.

A week later, while maneuvering through downtown Geneva during its annual Swedish Days Festival, I was offered a newly printed self-guided tour through Geneva’s Historic District.

Citing visitor curiosity over many historical buildings, the Geneva History Center created a self-guided walking tour this summer, according to Terry Emma, its executive director.

Maps can be obtained from the Geneva History Center, 113 S. Third St. For a $2 fee, history buffs can obtain a map that includes descriptions of the historic homes of Geneva prominent families as well as historic public buildings, shops and churches.

“People always are especially curious about the Kane County Courthouse since it dates back to 1892 and other old homes in town,” she said.

The tour takes about 45 minutes and is about a mile to 1.5 miles in length, Emma said.

“The tour is pretty contained in the downtown area,” she said.

She hopes to add additional tours that highlight other parts of Geneva, and at some point, make all the tours available on smart phones.

Another great walking tour that highlights Joliet’s many sculptures, murals and mosaics has been developed by Joliet’s Friends of Community Public Art working with the city of Joliet. During the last decade, the FCPA has spearheaded a movement to place artwork throughout Joliet that reflects the both the city’s history and culture.

“They really helped beautify the community,” according to Joliet Assistant City Manager Ben Benson. “We get leisure travelers and international travelers who are always captivated by the beautiful artwork.”

Now with more than 150 pieces of art dotted around Joliet, four different self-guided walking tours highlight different facets of Joliet’s settlement and growth.

“We have been cited in the book, ‘Art of Placemaking: Interpreting Community Through Public Art and Urban Design,’ which describes cities that have used art to give themselves an identity,” said Kathleen Farrell, FCPA artistic director.

“We reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the community,” she added.

Copies of the tours are available at Joliet City Hall, Joliet Area Historical Museum, the Friends of Community Public Art and the Joliet Visitors Center.

If you are an art enthusiast or a history buff or both, these tours provide a great opportunity to get further acquainted with our community and other surrounding communities. Enjoy!

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