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home : most recent : arts January 15, 2019

1/3/2019 4:53:00 PM
Artists bring new life to dying trees in East Chicago parks
Artist Anthony May stands near his masterpiece carved from a dying tree in Washington Park. Photo provided by East Chicago Parks Department
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Artist Anthony May stands near his masterpiece carved from a dying tree in Washington Park. Photo provided by East Chicago Parks Department

Paul Czapkowicz, Times of Northwest Indiana Correspondent

EAST CHICAGO — Dying trees are being turned into vibrant works of beauty as part of an Art in The Parks Project underway in the city.

Anxious artists from all over the world have reportedly responded to the invitation to tackle the trees.

Mayra Acosta, director of parks and recreation, said the city parks had undergone renovations recently, but Mayor Anthony Copeland thought more was needed.

"He felt there was something missing in the parks, and art would be something he thought would be nice to incorporate," Acosta said.

She said each year trees die across the city, many as a result of the emerald ash borer beetle. Sixty trees had to be cut down last year in city parks.

"We had an expert come out and evaluate the trees, and any trees that are within three years of dying are the ones we're turning into art pieces," Acosta said.

Five have been carved, sculpted or somehow reimagined into art in Washington Park.

Acosta said Copeland selected the five artists to work on the trees with the help of Chicago Sculpture International, which she said has a large database of artists.

"He did receive submissions from all over the world, even Japan," Acosta said.

Artist Anthony May, who lives in New York, said he had done 20 similar pieces of art and applauds East Chicago for being "progressive" in its efforts to extend the life of doomed trees.

"It's kind of an open studio working here on site, outdoors in the park," May said.

No painting was involved in his work on a willow tree for which he said the public works department helped by cutting off branches.

"What I did was transform the tree into something that looks like a glitch, like a computerized glitch in the landscape," May said. "So what I did was take the branches that we trimmed down and reattached them in cube form."

Acosta said Ameristar Casino is sponsoring three of the artists, providing them with a hotel room for the duration of their stay here while they're working on the tree.

Another component of the Art in the Parks Project is the receipt of large metal sculptures leased for a year that Acosta said were also selected by Copeland.

"The metal sculptures are coming from different parts of the U.S.," Acosta said.

"They're abstract art and they're completely different from each other," Acosta said.

She estimated the total cost for the tree and metal art works to be about $45,000, money that would be paid for through gaming funds.

The goal, Acosta said, is to add beauty to the parks and bring tourism to the city.

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