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DECATUR — Park District Foundation members unveiled 10 new pieces of art Saturday night, creating a new landscape for the two-year-old Scovill Sculpture Park.

Artists from around the country submitted works, and the winners included everything from abstract structures to a giant lifelike dog made of carbon-steel wire.

"Animals react to it, I've had dogs bark at it," said artist Travis Emmen, who hauled the steel boxer from his home in New Plymouth, Idaho.

Emmen and the nine other sculptors, representing vastly different pieces, were present on Saturday to talk to residents who were on hand for the unveiling and the Decatur Parks Foundation's annual fundraiser for the Scovill Zoo.

"I think that's the funnest part is watching people touch it," Emmen said.

The sculpture park, situated between the zoo and the Children's Museum of Illinois, is just one of the many privately funded projects for public consumption in Decatur from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

In June 2016, the Buffett Foundation announced a $250,000 grant to create the park. It opened later that summer, and the Decatur Parks Foundation plans to use the remaining money to continue commissioning new pieces every three years.

"Tonight is a celebration of everything that's going on, everything combined into one," said Jill Applebee, director of the parks foundation. 

That includes other Buffett Foundation-related projects, including an extension of the zoo's Z.O.& O Express train, a $2 million project that will further connect the zoo and children's museum.

Much of the vision behind the projects, Applebee said, came from Brian Byers, a member of the parks foundation board. Byers is also Neuhoff Media’s vice president of development and host of WSOY’s Byers & Company.

"We had this piece of land that nobody used that connects these two wonderful facilities that families from all over the state of Illinois (visit)," Byers said.

The front-end grant from the Buffett Foundation allowed the parks foundation to move quickly, completing the whole project within a year, Byers said.

"When I first talked to (Buffett) and he gave the go-ahead, we didn't have to go out and scrimp, you could just do it the right way."

Byers said his push for more public art in the Decatur area over the past few years took some convincing among residents and local leaders, but the skepticism passed once people saw the results.

Count Rich and Ashley Kaczynski of Mount Zion among the devoted. They said they attended the first unveiling of the park in 2016 and came back Saturday to see the new installations.

"I probably haven't shown too much appreciation for art in the past, but something like this definitely makes you more excited about it," Rich said.

Artists received a $3,000 commission to bring their work to the site, Emmen said, and they will take them back in three years to make way for the next round of pieces, unless visitors buy them before then.

The parks foundation is also selling $5,000 sponsorships of each work, and Applebee said so far seven have been sold.

"I'd like to see more public art (in Decatur); I think this is just the beginning," Byers said. "There are resources in this community (aside from the Buffett Foundation) to duplicate this."

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Contact Tom Lisi at (217) 421-6949. Follow him on Twitter: @tommylisi


Decatur Reporter

Decatur reporter for the Herald & Review.

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