New public art director puts focus on community-led experiences

Jen Evans is the new Aurora Public Art Commission director.

The city of Aurora welcomed Jen Evans this fall as the Aurora Public Art Commission’s new director after former director Rena Church retired in June.

Evans first worked with Church and the commission in 2006 as a teacher for ArtWorks, a dual credit program for area high school students.

In her new role as director, Evans wants “to provide residents with community-led experiences, education and leadership opportunities in the arts, contribute to the vibrancy of the city through public artwork, and oversee an alliance of cultural stakeholders in the city.”

Evans is excited to add more public art within the city: “Something that is interactive with the community, and not just a static sculpture. Something that kids can climb on or in or through; something that’s just dying for a selfie, something that’s really engaging.”

The “Swimming Stones,” the moving fountain sculpture located on Benton Street is a prime example of this sort of interactive public art, Evans added. It is this sort of engaging style that Evans is inspired by, and is the direction she hopes to follow for future installations downtown.

Evans is also focused on education and engagement. She is looking to create opportunities for local artists and community members to give them space to lead and teach their own art classes and curate shows.

Evans plans to utilize the space on the first floor of the David L. Pierce Art and History Center at 20 E. Downer Pl. for these informal art classes led by the community.

“You can come organize a poetry slam, or you can come make a mess,” she said. She added that the focus does not even have to be on visual art.

Evans is interested in promoting a sense of community cohesion and wants to use the space as a creative incubator, whether it’s open mic night, an artist lecture, or a story from a refugee, there will be untold spectacles and unique opportunities for public engagement and education, she said.

Evans is the former Interim Executive Director of Water Street Studios in Batavia where she worked to professionalize and redesign the trajectory of the agency while overseeing its gallery, gift shop, and art school.  A former adjunct professor of art at Waubonsee Community College and the Art Institute of Illinois, Evans is a seasoned artist whose artwork has been on exhibit at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Fermi Lab in Batavia, the Ishikawa International Salon in Japan and at more than 30 other exhibitions over the past 13 years.  A city press release said that Evans brings a global perspective of art and culture to Aurora, having lived and worked in both America and Japan.

Evans is among the small group of artists and community members who started Aurora’s Alley Art Festival in 2010.

The third floor of the Pierce Center will continue to be a white-wall gallery space that will highlight artists from all over the country as well as local students for the annual Winter Garden of Youth show, celebrating its 20th year.

Winter Garden of Youth can be visited from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday until January 20.

Aurora University interns Brendon Kolodziej and Victoria Alexander interviewed Jen Evans for this story.

Editor’s note: The David L. Pierce Art and History Center at 20 E. Downer Pl. (known locally as The DLP) is home to both Aurora Public Art Commission (APAC) and the Aurora Historical Society (AHS). The two separate entities will continue to share the building with APAC having access to the first and third floor and AHS running the gift shop on the ground floor and the continuing Aurora Story exhibit on the second floor. AHS also runs the Tanner Museum on Aurora’s West Side.