I recently completed the transformation of the Chicago Child Foster Care Center of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, and wanted to share some photos and the concept behind the work.
After noting some of my public art work, Pam Austin, Senior Director of Communications for LSSI, reached out to me to come up wth creative ideas to make this organization’s waiting area and family meeting rooms more inviting to the children they serve. I was invited on a tour of the center to get a sense of the space and overall environment, and met with the stakeholders of LSSI to get a deeper learning of what they were trying to achieve with the makeover. This insightful meeting helped me focus and go beyond just considering the aesthetics of the artwork, and come up with a visual end design that supports the important work the LSSI staff performs on a daily basis.
It came to me that a successful solution should include an element of visual diversion that allows counselors to put a child at ease during a difficult period or reward them for proper participation. As I explored concepts I kept the possibility of some element of interactivity top of mind. It’s also important to note that the LSSI waiting area and family meeting rooms are a busy and bustling place, so it was important to keep the makeover work to a minimum and after-hours.
After pitching a couple of ideas, the selected concept was a dimensional installation of a hot air ballon theme. This approach allowed me to quickly paint key walls sky blue after-hours and do most of the other creative work in my studio, which kept the disruption at LSSI to a minimum.
Back at my studio, I hand cut various hot air balloon shapes on quality wood at varying sizes, then sanded and primed them. Using a palette of bright colors to pattern the 30 cut balloons, I was able to ensure that each piece was unique and provided dimension. Next, I sourced wooden baskets of varying sizes, and hand cut them to proper size in relation to the balloons, and added holes that would allow each one to be hand threaded with rope to secure the baskets to the balloons. The pieces were then applied to the walls via a custom-designed spacer and a screw system, bringing an element of depth to the project. Custom hot air balloons with “available” and “occupied” indicators were also created for each of the three family meeting rooms. Finally, over the course of two nights, a large, concrete pillar in the center of the waiting room was painted to match the style of the balloons.
The idea here is beyond providing visual interest through the installation of the art pieces—the actual baskets can be used in varying interactive ways. For instance, children can work with a counselor to write out a wish and add it to a basket, or they can draw out a frustration, add it to a basket and have it “carried away.” Alternatively, some baskets have inspiring fortunes added to them. My hope is that while the vibrance and dimensionality of the balloons warm up the space, the baskets continue to provide LLSI staff with the ability to expand on the interactive possibilities as they continue their wonderful and important work with the children they serve.
Serving Illinois since 1867, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) is a nonprofit social service organization of the three Illinois synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). LSSI is the largest statewide social service provider, serving over 70,000 people across Illinois last year. The demographics of clients served by LSSI generally reflect those of Illinois’ population, with one important exception—more than 80% of clients report an annual household income under $15,000, compared to just 12% of all Illinois households. The organization provides critical programs for the state’s most vulnerable residents including foster care, mental health services, alcohol and drug treatment, affordable senior housing, residential programs for people with developmental disabilities, and programs that help formerly incarcerated individuals integrate back into society.
Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, Foster Care Branch provides supportive services for children in need and their families. Foster care services focus on placing children who have experienced neglect or abuse into a loving and secure home. Children’s Community Services offers numerous other services to at-risk children and their families in their communities.
In the spirit of the season and giving, I encourage you to consider making a donation to support this organization’s wonderful and vital community efforts and outreach which you can do by selecting the link below.
Thank you Valspar Paint for your donation of paint for this project.
Thank you to fellow artist Jerry Rogowski for helping me with install.
Thank you to Pam Austin and Ruth Jajko for allowing me to transform your space.