Evanston native to install Buddha statues around town to promote peace

Jia You, Assistant City Editor

Come the end of March, Evanston residents and NU students might find a giant Buddha head emerging on their way to work or class.

Evanston native and artist Indira Johnson and her nonprofit, Changing World, are installing Buddha statues in Evanston and nine Chicago neighborhoods as a public art project to promote peace and non-violence in communities.

The project, named Ten Thousand Ripples, aims to install 100 fiberglass and resin Buddha heads in the ten locations. In Evanston, an online survey conducted by the city has suggested 10 tentative locations for the statues, including one on campus near the Arch at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Sheridan Road and one at the downtown fountain area.

“A powerful and profound need exists within each of us to know that peace is possible in spite of the violence that surrounds us,” Johnson, who is currently in Mumbai, India, said in a statement. “Ten Thousand Ripples is a reminder of that need.”

Johnson, a Christian, does not want the project to carry religious meanings, said Claire Sutton, the project’s manager. Instead, the Buddha image is intended to spur community dialogues on peace.

“It starts the rippling effect of making you stop, think, and hopefully have these conversations about why they are placed there,” Sutton said.

Community engagement is key to the project, Sutton said. Each of the 10 chosen neighborhoods has founded a local committee to determine execution details and additional programs on violence prevention. The Evanston Art Center, Evanston Township High School and nonprofit Open Studio have proposed to host additional events.

Open Studio, a social service focusing on arts, plans to coordinate an art installation project at Grey Park at the corner of Ridge Avenue and Main Street on April 21, where community members would gather together to build a bridge with fabric, paper and other materials woven into it, facilitation director Karla Rindal said.

“Basically the concept is about bridging cultural divides,” Rindal said, noting the neighborhood — hosting a mental health institution, a special education facility and a business district — had experienced sensitive differences between the haves and the have-nots.

“This is a project where all the parties involved can come together and contribute to a creative process,” she said.

The project would fit well with other city initiatives to address the issue of street violence, said Jeff Cory, the city’s Arts Council director.

“Anything that calls attention to the topic is a potentially positive thing,” Cory said. “This is a way that we can utilize public art to further those goals.”

City Council is scheduled to vote on permit applications related to the project Monday, Cory said, adding that installation of the statues is likely to begin by the end of this month.

Under the current proposal, five of the statues would remain permanently in the city, with the other five on temporary display from March through June, Sutton said. The project would culminate in an exhibition at a Loyola University gallery in Chicago in July, she said.

“It really is about starting the dialogues,” Sutton said.