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Money Needed to Restore Joliet's Fading, Crumbling Murals: Group

Friends of Community Public Art is putting together a committee tasked with raising money to pay for the restoration and maintenance of the city's outdoor artwork.

Joliet's 150-plus murals are in danger of being lost if money cannot be found to pay for their maintenance or restoration, Friends of Community Public Art Administrator Debra Kuypers said Thursday.

There's been no funding available since 2008, the last year the city of Joliet was able to provide the group with a $10,000 annual stipend to cover some of the upkeep costs. The group must come up with a funding solution or watch the art keep disintegrating, Kuypers said.

To that end, a fledgling volunteer committee has come together to look for ways raise cash. They met once in late March, and will do so again at 9 a.m. April 12 at the FCPA studio at 310 N. Ottawa St. The meeting's open to anyone who wants to attend.

"We're trying to bring awareness to the condition the murals are in because the majority are in bad shape," Kuypers said.

Some of the art dates back 35 years, and there are at least five that are close to being completely lost if something is not done, she said.

Already some groups have stepped forward -- Chicago Street Pub, for example, has agreed to host a fundraiser in which the money will go toward restoring the downtown Irish immigration mural. They're hoping others will be willing to sponsor similar events, Kuypers said.

The group may also consider doing an Internet fundraiser. Groups like kickstarter.com allow people to donate online toward specific causes.

Right now, an inventory is being done of every mural in town to determine exactly what needs to be done. Kuypers estimated as much at $100,000 could be needed for the work.

The expense comes from having to rehire the original artists to return and update their work. If the original artist declines, they'll need to hire someone else to take on the task, Kuypers said.

In some cases, it's a somewhat simple task of repainting. But for others, it may also involve restoration and even replacement because sections of the boards on which the murals were painted have warped or otherwise been damaged, she said.

At least five murals are classifed as in "dire" shape, and one -- the mural depicting some of the great sports athletes from Joliet -- is beyond repair, she said. Its location under the railroad tracks near Silver Cross Field is too wet and undergoes too much stress from train traffic to be worth the effort so the plan would be to repaint it in a new location.

Kuypers said she knows many people think the task is easy -- just bring in volunteers or high school students to repaint the work -- but that's not the correct way to preserve art. They need to be done professionally, in part for civic pride -- people come to Joliet to look at them, she said.

"People expect artists to work for free, but that's wrong," she said. "They went to school to learn their (craft), and they should be paid."

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