On October 17, Yoko Ono unveiled her permanent public sculpture “Sky Landing” in Jackson Park. The installation, composed of twelve twelve-foot-tall steel lotus flower petals rising from the ground, is one of the many ventures of Project 120, a nonprofit working with the Chicago Parks District and community members to “revitalize the South Parks” and initiate a “South Side cultural renaissance and resurgence,” according to its website. Park-goers can walk through the installation and around each of the towering lotus petals, while simultaneously admiring the surrounding garden in the Wooded Island section of Jackson Park.
The debut of Ono’s “Sky Landing” was accompanied by a speech by Ono herself and a dance performance. She described the sculpture as a “place where the sky and earth meet and create a seed to learn about the past and come together to create a future of peace and harmony, with nature and each other.”
The installation lies in the Garden of the Phoenix, formerly known as the Osaka Garden, on the north side of the Wooded Island. According to the Garden of the Phoenix’s website, the creation of the Garden was meant to reflect the over 120-year relationship between the U.S. and Japan, and its designs were heavily inspired by Japanese art and culture. The installation is just one of Project 120’s endeavors: they’re also planning a recreation of the Phoenix Pavilion—a feature of Jackson Park that existed during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition but was heavily damaged due to arson in 1946. The proposed Phoenix Pavilion will not only house a café and educational and exhibit spaces, but will also feature a Music Court—a large outdoor stage and performance venue right next to the lakefront. Project 120 has also proposed creating forty acres of open space for a Great Lawn in the park, on the current site of a driving range and parking lot. Ultimately, these numerous redevelopment projects are part of Project 120’s ambitious plan to establish The South Parks Conservancy, an organization that “will manage and foster the South Parks in partnership with the public,” according to the Project 120 website.
However, the changes coming to Jackson Park, including the future Obama Library and the plans from Project 120, are not without opposition. Jackson Park Watch (JPW), a community organization led by Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid, has been concerned with Project 120’s lack of transparency regarding the sculpture and the forthcoming changes to Jackson Park. According to JPW’s website, in July of 2014, the “Park District entered into a secretive Memorandum of Understanding with Project 120 that appears to give that organization surprising leeway to reshape large portions of Jackson Park.” And according to the Memorandum of Understanding itself, obtained by the JPW through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, “Project 120 and the Park District are working together in a civic public-private partnership to develop and implement plans with the community to revitalize and celebrate Jackson Park.” Furthermore, JPW claims on its website that the installation of Ono’s sculpture occurred without “…community input, environmental assessment, and…traceable record of any decisions by the Park District Board of Commissioners itself.” According to a statement released by Jackson Park Watch on its website, after the debut of “Sky Landing,” the opening event was invite-only, most of the attendees were not local, and event organizers denied entrance to community members wishing to attend. Project 120 did not respond to the Weekly’s requests for comment about “Sky Landing.”
Project 120 lists on its website several local organizations, such as the Jackson Park Advisory Council and Friends of the Parks, as “partner organizations” and advisors. Project 120 has also offered occasional public workshops since January of 2015 in which community members can learn about the process and implementation of upcoming projects. In May, 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston held a community meeting about the park plans with representatives from Project 120 and the Parks District.
However, JPW plans to continue challenging and publicizing Project 120’s plans and upcoming projects. JPW organizers have submitted FOIA requests and attended “People in the Parks” forums for several months in order to find out more about the process behind the sculpture installation, but received no response until October 18, when a member of the Park District Board said that Ono’s sculpture “was donated by Yoko Ono and Project 120 and that while the Park District owns it, it will not pay for maintenance,” according to an update on JPW’s website.
JPW’s chief issues with the Phoenix Pavilion are not only with Project 120’s lack of transparency but also with the possibility that this project would lead to “another privatization of public park space” that solely focuses on “revenue-generation,” the JPW website writes. And while Jackson Park Watch says that they welcome the arrival of the Obama Library, they do not wish for the project to “be built at the cost of parkland for the public.”
Ironically, the installation of Ono’s “Sky Landing,” a statue meant to symbolize peace and harmony, seems to only be a harbinger for bigger conflicts that will inevitably arise as plans for the redevelopment of the South Parks continue.