Obstacle One: Wont to Wonder
My wont to wander is a product of those days, and I love exploring new places. In a city with over 3.8 million people, there is always something new to discover even in what may have become a familiar space. The very nature of Chicago lends itself well to an educator’s desire of separation from transience through place-based education.
As I embarked on my research, initially I sought to explore familiar works located in Chicago’s Loop—my beloved Crown Fountain, Leonard Crunelle’s Children near Edward H. Bennett’s Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain, or another personal favorite, SAIC’s recent Presidential Scholarship recipient Dessa Kirk’s installation, Daphne Garden. In fact, while visiting her Magdalene located on the corner of Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue, I encountered my first obstacle. I also learned how educated tourists were regarding local monuments.
After a few aborted attempts at finding anyone other than tourists to interview, I realized these works did not necessarily fit the criteria of the 2012 concept of “Neighborhood showcases of culture” (Supplemental, p. 4). Additionally, I learned many tourists were surprisingly knowledgeable about the works, at least to the extent that they were quick to ask me where to find such and such sculpture after their eyes glazed over once I mentioned I was interested in exploring how educators could effectively utilize the democratic educational space surrounding Chicago’s public works of art. They were even more reticent with their enquiries regarding the next nearest monument once I asked them to sign my Consent Form. They would hastily ask me to snap a picture with their cell phone, and in almost the same gesture they had used to cursorily glance at whether or not I had gotten the nearby monument in their photo, they would look at their GPS to locate the next item on their list of “must-sees.” It appeared in part, in addition to being attracted to these monuments by sheer physical location in the busiest intersections across Chicago, tourists were attracted to many public art works specifically so they could have a record of where they had been and what they had seen on their vacation. While I encountered these same types of potential research participants in Jackson and Lincoln Parks (where I conducted most of my research), I found it difficult to find participants who were willing to respond to my specific questions as they pertained to potential implementation of Chicago’s 2012 plan.
My second choice was to interview people in the space created by 64 pieces installed by Chicago Sculpture International (CSI) during summer 2012, but as I began exploring them, I realized because the pieces were temporary, my discussion and research would eventually be dated, perhaps obsolete since the works would not have been available later. Additionally, while their web site lists all temporary works and contributing artists, it provides little information about each piece, an important part of my research process. Nor did they fit within Benjamin’s definition of “historical” since they had been recently crafted.
As I continued identifying which pieces would best fit my needs, Tim Wittman, adjunct instructor at SAIC and former Chicago Historical Society (CHS) board member, pointed me to the Guide by Bach and Gray (1983). The book was no longer in print, but it was easily available on Amazon for under $10. At last, I believed, I had direction for my research. The Guide provided more comprehensive information about Chicago’s public art than I had been able to glean from any available website I had yet stumbled upon. The Guide was awaiting me on a Friday afternoon in early December, I devoured its contents the next day, set out to find my first piece on December 9, 2012, landing in Englewood at 10:00 on a Sunday morning in an attempt to find what Bach and Gray identified as the “highest equestrian statue in the U.S.” (p. 286). I vaguely recalled catching a glimpse of the gilt St. Martin on a bike ride in 2009, so when I haltingly arrived at what my GPS had identified as the correct location (disembarking from Red-Line’s Garfield exit, heading west across the Dan Ryan, and walking past a number of blocks with abandoned, boarded up homes, something I had NOT noted on my bike but was fearfully aware of on foot), I was perplexed when I couldn’t find the towering St. Martin.
I asked a passerby, who happened to be headed into what Bach and Gray had identified as “St. Martin Catholic Church, 5842 South Princeton Street,” where the sculpture was located (ibid). I was mortified by her response, “Oh, we lost him to the wind last year.” Dismayed, I accepted her offer to join her at the church service, and was delighted by the remarkably animated and beautifully choreographed two-hour performance by the praise and worship team presented to a nearly empty house. Here, I had found what could have perhaps fit the plan’s definition of culture.
I encountered ruins the moment I stepped away from the areas seemingly preserved for wealthy tourists on their pilgrimages. Abandoned houses on South Side Chicago, beautiful Victorian homes with rich ornamentation, soaring gables, monuments of skillfully crafted brickwork, woodwork and ironwork were now rusted, crumbling, rotting, inhabiting a desolate space that was underscored by the absence of St. Martin and the Beggar. Even though the fallen equestrian was no longer there, everyone I interviewed at the site knew of him: his claim to fame, what he symbolized, when he fell, various organizations they had tried to contact in vain to have him restored. The small community had given up hope of restoration, even though their building has a collection of stained glass windows surveyed by Wittman sometime in the late 1980’s. St. Martin and the Beggar, for now, sit alone in storage. In ruins.
 While it may be noted that my research excludes the more “touristy” areas in Chicago, my original thesis proposal included all of Chicago’s Lakefront from Jackson Park through Lincoln Park, including Museum Campus, the Loop and Grant Park. Because of thesis length restrictions recently adopted by SAIC MAAE department, I have eliminated most of the data collected from those areas, only briefly discussing my findings.
 Chicago’s 1986 “Cultural Plan” (the first one written since Burnham’s original 1909 plan) defined culture as that which “comprises our common heritage and avenues of expression—the visual arts and crafts, humanities, anthropology, science and technology, performing arts, architecture and other means of expression—which people use to communicate their fundamental character and aspirations,” (Final, pp. 4, 1) This definition, which added, “Culture and the arts are essential to the quality of life” was also adopted by the 2012 plan (ibid). The definition is aligned to the basic premise of place-based education, and emphasizes a sense of community by adding that the arts “help identify our place in the world and provide opportunities for creative expression” (ibid).