A Chicago court has condemned the Chicago Parks District for the destruction of a public art installation in one of its parks. Wildflower Works was a 1.5 acre field of wildflowers created in 1984 by artist Chapman Kelley in Chicago’s Grant Park . Kelley described the garden as a painting in the summer when in bloom and a sculpture in the winter. Chapman Kelley, along with friends and supporters, maintained the installation over the years with their own time and resources. In 2004 the Parks District, without consulting Kelley, reduced it by half and surrounded it with a knee-high hedge and closely cropped lawn.
Kelley, who was 71 at the time, sued under the Federal Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), legislation created in 1990 to protect public art. VERA requires that artists be notified at least 90 days before public art is altered, removed or destroyed. Kelley was given only a few days notice, not enough time to take legal action or remove the flowers himself. The court valued the art work at $1.5 million.
The decision comes in the midst of a municipal battle to save Grant Park and Bicentennial Plaza from bulldozers and redevelopment. A consortium of private interests have proposed a new 100,000 square foot museum to built in the plaza.
The Park was created in Chicago’s downtown on the shoreline of Lake Michigan as a permanent green space in 1836. Chicago residents enjoy less greenspace per capita than any of the other 10 largest cities in the U.S.
For more information about the fight to save Grant Park go here.
Accompanying photo by Chapman Kelley.