The 606 Park and Trail System catchment area (in white) served by the new greenspace connects 4 neighborhoods on Chicago’s northwest side. The 2.7 mile length near Lake Michigan crosses the city grid at 38 locations, becoming a Laboratory for New Practice.
The integration of art, artists, and “arts thinking” into the re-design of the Bloomingdale forms the core of The 606 Arts Program and establishes a new model for public art and infrastructure reuse. The multi-dimensional Arts Program converts an artifact of Chicago’s industrial heritage into a laboratory for new kinds of creative practices.
An east/west line of 453 temperature-sensitive, native, flowering trees form a climate-monitoring artwork, visualizing Chicago's famous lake effect with a five-day bloom-spread. This civic experiment deploys a seasonal spectacle to engage citizens and scientists alike in understanding microclimate.
This synthetic approach to ecological urbanism blends participatory art practices, climatology, and the expressive potential of public infrastructure to raise consciousness creating a new landscape typology, “pink infrastructure”.
A mounded solar observatory revealing earthly and celestial events is created in collaboration with Adler Planetarium at the western trailhead at Ridgeway Avenue. Created from trail construction soils, the spiraling seasonal earthwork will re-ground audiences in their geographic and cultural reality.
Julia de Burgos Park focuses on the spoken word, poetry, and text based expressions. The connection between the cultural icon and her expressive medium is a reflection of the nearby community and reinforces the connection between “voice”, language, gender, identity, and cultural diversity, through poetry.
An architectural communal seating area and sense of place, focused on the views of the historic boulevard below, marks the south end of the Logan Square Boulevards District at Humboldt Boulevard. The seating reflects the formal geometry of the historic site and these important, dramatic views.
Taking inspiration from the extreme vertically of stacked infrastructure,this layered site builds conceptually from bedrock geology upward. Several features exaggerate this verticality including: a repurposed commercial billboard, a “stretched” “tied arch” bridge and a “Spire Garden” of cultivars grown for their vertical form.
The creative engineering initiative to re-locate a bridge another part of the trail not only literalizes the project theme of transformation but also takes the art concept of the readymade to new heights. This “artwork by engineers”, playfully links the industrial heritage of Chicago to the future-oriented Arts Program.
Primarily a facility for exhibition and performance, this open space is contextually flexible to respond to the dynamic forms of contemporary art as they evolve. The plaza will graciously receive monumental “plop” sculpture and will also host revolving shows, pop-ups and event based forms and performances.
The Skate + Event Plaza is performance driven. Linking the cultural associations of artistic performance, the functional understanding of “performativity”, and the performing of everyday life, this “radically multifunctional” skate plaza aims to demonstrate that through imagination we can deliver more from the built environment.
The core idea of the landscape design for The 606 is the “urban wild”. Like the concept of “urban agriculture” and “urban forestry”, this idea reflects an approach linking aesthetics with ecological, botanical and horticultural function, revealing a reversal between urban, rural and wild landscape types and urbanization patterns.
Begun in 1910, the massive industrial embankment reflects the Beaux-Arts aesthetic known as City Beautiful. More recently these walls have been used for a wide variety of painted images, street art, “graffiti”, and community mural projects. This uneasy status between image and object, plays out along the streetscape.
A suite of simple contemporary site furnishings has been designed for The 606 as a trailwide idiom. In addition to creating cohesion, this idiom is clearly contemporary, and not confused with heritage elements. Yet it relates to traditional park vernacular, subtly reinforcing that this is a familiar public park like all others.
As a site driven by curiosity and discovery, the principle engagement strategy for Kimball Park is direct experience and unmediated, 5 senses learning. An ideal location to embrace new participatory art forms and STEM learning alike, the Kimball Park concept supports The 606 “interrogative” creative residencies concept.
2012 - 2015
Frances Whitehead, Lead Artist
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Landscape
The Trust for Public Land
The Chicago Park District
The City of Chicago
USA National Phenologic Network
Chicago Wildnerness Alliance
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Commissioned as Lead Artist on the Design Team, Frances Whitehead has worked with Collins Engineers and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates to envision the adaptation of The Bloomingdale, an unused, elevated rail line, and how the arts and culture can serve as an integrative framework for reimagined civic infrastructure. The multi-dimensional Arts Program converts an artifact of Chicago’s industrial heritage into a laboratory for new kinds of creative practices, linking art and life, nature and culture, and creating a new type of urban green-space.
Embedded Artworks double as park amenities, performance venues or sites for public learning.
The 2.7-mile, multiuse recreational trail and park system that stretches east to west through four neighborhoods on Chicago's Northwest Side includes the Bloomingdale Trail and six pocket parks to form The 606. An unprecedented public/private partnership on a major public greenway, The Trust for Public Land, City of Chicago, and the Chicago Park District form the Partnership collaboration for the project.
Fully “embedded” into the engineering and landscape design team, Whitehead has worked collaboratively to synthesize local site conditions with a broad range of contemporary art ideas to form a place-based, experiential approach. The concept that culture and sustainability are deeply linked underpins the arts strategies and creates the ethos of the Arts Program, which manifests “place” at multiple scales: local, bioregional, global and virtual. This “arts thinking” has generated plans for several hybrid sites and landscape features across the length of The 606. These “embedded artworks” double as park amenities, performance venues or sites for public learning.
Whitehead's integrative approach extends the grassroots vision for the project, that The 606 be a "Living Work of Art." Begun as a neighborhood initiative, the project reflects a global mindset–that we must better utilize existing assets, and that we must use our collective imagination to adapt and transform what is already built. This imaginative task shall involve the participation of diverse community members, public and private agencies, and a wide array of “creatives” of all types. As an example of these new creative opportunities the transformation of the rail artifact into the nation’s longest elevated park has catalyzed the Chicago community at all levels, reflecting the grassroots vision that The 606 become a “Living Work of Art”. As Lead Artist for The 606, Whitehead has served as cultural interpreter of this grassroots vision, helping to identify opportunities for other artists on The 606.
This link between culture and sustainability is the basis for The 606 Arts foundational principles: Cultural Expression, Participation, Innovation, and Sustainability. These principles correspond to the four “pillars” or criteria that constitute the emerging global sustainability model, adding “culture” to the original “triple bottom line” of “social, economic, environmental” pillars respectfully. First proposed by Australian Jon Hawkes in 2001, the now well accepted “4 Pillar Model” has been adopted by organizations worldwide, recognizing the important role that cultural perspectives and diversity plays in shaping actions and decisions, expanding the role of artists in civic matters; artist as a new kind of problem solver.
Demonstrating the vital role that artists and the arts shall play in creating the city of the future.
The imperative voiced locally in the Community Vision corresponds to the urgency felt by artists and communities across the globe, to respond to climate, social conditions and culture change. The 606, as a laboratory for new practice and forum for conversation, addresses this urgency at a global scale, demonstrating the vital role that artists and the arts shall play in creating the city of the future.