In August, the City Manager asked organizers to propose thoughtful, creative ways to winterize the installation and help support the small minority of residents who were finding the memorial, and downtown in general, challenging for a variety of reasons.
After meeting with her team a few weeks ago, we sent the detailed memorandum below and began to enact some of the easiest remedies, like removing weathered cards, softening the orange, and adding a broader color palette. The City Manager urged us to stop that activity and we have.
Despite assurances that our artistic expression could remain in its current location assuming it could evolve, we discovered (quite by accident) that the City is recommending that the installation be removed in its entirety by Oct 19th. Not one of our proposed suggestions received any public consideration and it’s not clear if they were shared with council members or victims’ families to review.
This rock circle in the Rose Garden next to City Hall, invisible to the street and shrouded by shrubbery, seems to be the City’s proposed alternative.
Memorandum sent to City Manager 9/19/22
We are grateful that the City recognizes the value of the installation and is committed to honoring the community members who visit.
As I said in our call, we considered our 9/7 meeting as an opportunity for a brainstorming session only, rather than the nature of negotiations. Here is our more crystalized thinking, and of course, we welcome your feedback and continued collaboration.
As a jumping-off point:
- We appreciate that our interactive, public art installation is on public, city-owned property.
- We have zero interest in bringing discord or disruption to the community.
- We have heard from civic leaders, first responders, mental health professionals, victims’ families, leading public art professionals, local clergy, educational experts, journalists, special needs communities, and visitors from the community and across the country that the installation is resoundingly appropriate, therapeutic, beautiful, and impactful for all ages.
- We appreciate that the city has heard some concerns about the memorial (albeit uncodified) and agree that it is in our collective interest to try to mitigate them as best we can.
- We appreciate that the memorial may prove challenging for some members of our community. We’re collaborating with a dedicated team of expert mental health professionals to help community members navigate the downtown experience, specifically the corner of St. John’s & Central. Facilitators include Marcia Nickow, PsyD, CADC Stanley Selinger, Ph.D. Sheila Mendoza, MSW, Kim Dennis, MD, Shelley Firestone, MD Alma Jarrell, MEd Ross Nickow, MA, Joe Whitlock, CADC. Click here for more information.
- We applaud the city’s historic and redoubled effort to end the epidemic of gun violence in America. The memorial is – and will continue to be – non-partisan. Gun violence is not a political issue. It’s a humanitarian issue. Thank you for your continued leadership.
- We are committed to providing resources and physical space to help children process the shooting. Next to the corral of stuffed animals, we feature a laminated copy of resident and special ed teacher Maggie Schmieder’s new book, Hopeful Hearts in Highland Park.
- We’re confident that we can execute creative solutions to the four chief issues you’ve raised:
- Realistic representation of deceased
- Winter/inclement weather
- Hyper-visibility from the street
- Archival Needs
Our goal is to build on what’s working and mitigate what’s less effective so that the space can become even more welcoming, therapeutic, and impactful.
What’s Currently Working
This pavilion, originally built to create community, now fulfills its original intent. The diversity of the victims and the injured brought together mourners from all races, genders, ages, religions, and socio-economic groups. Impromptu collaborative craft overwhelmed cultural differences, language barriers, distrust, and fear. For so many of us, the memorial, as both noun and verb, has offered a place and a purpose – a way forward.
There are a number of intrinsic factors that help make this interactive public art expression so successful (summed up in this recent Hyperallergic feature):
- A central location in an otherwise underutilized and under-valued public space
- Three generous access points
- Generous communal benches can be accessed from either side.
- Covered and light-filled
- Evening lighting
- Spillover to the pocket park allows for overflow and quiet reflection.
- Foot and two-way street traffic
- Near, but not overly close, proximity to commercial and residential areas
- Public transport and free parking
- On the periphery of the crime scene
- The memorial and adjacent pocket park has become a vibrant community hub, a place for people to gather, grieve, commune, and heal. These positive activities should be encouraged.
- We are heartened to hear that the City has no plans to move the temporary memorial and respects the sense of place that has been so intentionally cultivated. Moving this installation to another location would destroy that community. It is our sincere hope that the installation might remain until a permanent memorial is built.
- We are not involved in any way with the memorial on the north side of Central. Should the city decide to remove items from that site, we are open to absorbing fresh-looking items and adapting them to fit our installation’s aesthetic.
- While we appreciate the DOJ has guidelines about the expiration date on memorials, we believe the northside display is the kind of tired expression they are talking about. Our interactive public art installation is a different animal entirely. It is unique to our community and our experience.
- From our vantage point, the response from the community – including clergy, mental health experts, teachers, elected leaders, esteemed public artists, and victims, notably individuals who lost loved ones and were shot or injured – has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, all seven families have added note cards to the photographs of their loved ones. Here is but a small sample of video testimonials (private link).
- On average 1,000 to 5,000 people, from near and far, visit our memorial every single day. Some stay for hours. Some stay for days. Some arrive before dawn, just as their work day begins. Some come in the darkness of night to find peace in quiet anonymity. Without prompting, many engage in therapeutic art activities, like wrapping rocks or writing notes, and crafting get-well-soon cards for Cooper.
- Latinx communities across HP and beyond are disproportionately affected by gun violence that takes our lives and leaves lasting trauma. Important dates: Latinx Heritage Month from Sept 15 to Oct 15. Day of the Dead is Nov 1-2. The Hispanic victims’ families visit the memorial daily.
- Jacqueline brings two decades of public art and community organizing to this project. She has spearheaded Hope Trees across the country in cooperation with city leaders and communities traumatized by gun violence.
- We appreciate the complexity of the city’s public communication efforts. In whatever is communicated about this plan, or our discussions in general, we respectfully ask that for warm, embracing, forward-thinking language, words like ‘Evolving’ and ‘Roots to Leaves.’ Words like ‘scale-back’ or ‘triggering’ are loaded and easily misconstrued.
Four Chief Areas of Concern
Concern #1: Realistic representation of the deceased in digital altars.
Solution #1: Create digital collage portraits incorporating images of community members who have visited the memorial
- Recreate photo mosaics of victims’ portraits in a softer, less realistic way that embodies the strength of the community. The current images were gleaned from CNN, but we would love to use higher-quality photos chosen by the families. For example, Eduardo’s daughter has provided a picture of her dad smiling. We’ve made examples for all the victims that incorporate photos of memorial visitors (see below). These are just drafts. We could make them still softer, use larger individual pixels, add a color overlay, etc. We could also include more diverse thumbnails.
- Add a QR code underneath each nameplate that instantly takes viewers to a “living memorial” on HPpromse.org. This landing page would provide a video testimonial to the full and complex humanity of each loved one: their passions, their dreams, and their legacy. Since visitors would need to scan codes with their smartphones, the salience of the memorial would pivot to an “opt-in” experience.
- The most expedient way to facilitate harvesting video tributes would be to use Tribute.co, a platform I’ve used countless times for non-profit campaigns. We would provide each family with a unique tribute solicitation page with prompts. Here is an example Tribute solicitation we’ve made for Jacki that could be edited in real-time. Families could forward it to about 10-15 people or they could give us a CSV of names/emails and the platform would send it out (with reminders etc). Invitees would simply upload a short video to the platform and we’d compile a montage that would be featured on our website HPpromise (and elsewhere if desired). On the backend, videos would be hosted privately on Vimeo Pro for a controlled user experience that could be updated in real-time without affecting any links.
- No change to the physical altar structures beyond a coat of polyurethane and perhaps additional reinforcement. A victim’s extended family has rebuilt and painted all seven altars. A local engraver has made the nameplates (even updating spelling with feedback from family members). The white flowers and other physical artifacts on the altar shelves would remain intact. These physical artifacts hold deep emotional and cultural value, especially to the Latinx families and extended community mourners.
Concern #2: Winter/Inclement Weather
Solution #2: Winterize some physical aspects of the memorial; Continue to cull damaged items.
- Since the pavilion is covered, the yarn will weather beautifully.
- Freshen the yarn treatment on the two pocket park trees.
- Consult Olson Rug & Flooring, who donated those carpet squares, to inquire about an all-weather option for the benches.
- Continue to remove weathered tags as appropriate. It’s vital to empower community members to write and post tags so long as there’s an appetite for expression. The current desk is key to offering people a safe, dedicated place to write notes.
- Weatherproof and secure any decorative or informative items.
- Replace the summer foliage with fall/ winter foliage, such as bound birch branches or pine, aiming to keep any additions secure, tasteful, and non-denominational.
- We are grateful for the access to the water hose and the additional garbage pick-up. If we add potted trees, it would be helpful to include them on the city streetscape landscaping water route. It would also be helpful to have access to electricity in the pavilion to transition fairly lights off battery power. A few overhead globes and post lights are burnt out and should be replaced.
Concern #3: Hyper-visibility from the street
Solution #3: Thoughtfully evolve the aesthetic color choices
- Add three colors to the memorial in a consistent treatment: green, blue, and rust.
- Add green yarn of various hues on all the bases of the pillars to represent Renewal and Grounding, reinforcing the importance of place.
- Add blue yarn of various hues to all the pillar capitals (currently blank), representing Highland Park and Sky
- Add rust-colored yarn of various hues to the outside of the pillars to signify Earth.
In the spirit of good faith, we have already begun this color evolution and the initial response has been quite positive. Here is the language we put out to the community on Sept 18:
ROOTS TO LEAVES 𐂷〰️ Join us today as we add two additional colors to our memorial expression: 🟢Green for renewal + 🔵blue for Sky & Highland Park Strong. Craft & camaraderie at St. John’s & Central from 10am on. All ages welcome. Come! 🧡🧡🧡🧡🧡🧡🧡 Learn more on HPpromise.org #HPpromise
- Add potted evergreen trees outside of each pillar which would soften the view from the street as well as create a cozier feeling inside. We would tap the local landscapers (already city vendors) who have already donated materials to beautify the pocket park.
- If the city decides to remove the northside memorial, it would open more space for those who would like more of an ‘optional’ experience.
Concern #4: Archival Needs
Solution #3: Collaborative photography
- Collectively photograph the more ephemeral aspects of the memorial for future and historical use. In collaboration with the city, we’d like to invite community members to help photograph the tags that are currently posted.
- If people upload them to Instagram or Twitter with #HPPromise, posts will show up on our evolving digital wall on HPpromise.org. We can also share the embed code for this wall so it could be posted on any other website.
- We think it’s best to keep the collection of swapped-out portraits intact in the city’s archive.
If you’re amenable to these proposed suggestions, we’d like to present this plan jointly, using the upcoming community meeting to solicit feedback. Ideally, we could plan/publicize a joint community event where community members could come help photograph tags before the Jewish holidays begin on September 25.
Again, Ghida, thank you for trusting us to be sensitive and responsible stewards of this organic, community voice. We are grateful to be your partner in this work.
Jacqueline von Edelberg (on behalf of the team)
Revised Altar Images Comprised of Visitor Thumbnails (draft)
Letter of support from Donald Lipski
Dear City Manager Neukirch,
I understand that a plan is being considered to remove the Memorial on the South side of Central at St. Johns. I am writing to urge you to hold off.
I grew up in Highland Park. I marched in the parade as a Cub Scout and rode my bike decorated with flags and streamers. I was in Highland Park last week for my HPHS Class of ’65’s 75th Birthday Party, and also to give a talk at the Art Center of Highland Park. My overall impression is that you, the City, and its citizens have done a remarkable and admirable job of coping in the aftermath of this heartbreaking tragedy.
While I wasn’t around to see the evolution of your Memorials—and I understand the organic, democratic nature of their development—as a Highland Parker and as an artist who creates work in public places, I would like to share my impressions:
I walked the length of Central and lingered at the memorials. The display on the North side, at the Veterans’ Memorial, seemed quite sad to me, with dead flowers and stuffed animals long past their prime. Whatever positive role this site played over the passing weeks, I believe it has, perhaps, lost its beauty and power. Although people were passing by, they were not stopping. Perhaps it is indeed time to let it go.
The display by across the street was, by contrast, vibrant. There were people actively engaged, both reading and writing messages. I saw people in discussion; people in thought; people in tears. It seems that there is music there every night.
Believe me, I understand the strong urge to move on. One day this display will likely have outlived its usefulness. But at the moment it is the place in town to contemplate and honor the victims and actively commune with other citizens searching for a meaningful moment. I urge you to put off shutting down this powerful and useful tribute until there is something even better to take its place.
With sympathy and gratitude, Donald Lipski