Painted lightbulbs shine a light on suicide in downtown Aurora

“Butterfly” lightbulb by Aurora artist Sam Cervantes sits at the corner in front of Tecalitlan Mexican Restaurant in downtown Aurora.

By Brendon Kolodziej

September 1 marked the start of National Suicide Prevention Month. To help spread awareness, a local organization kick-started a campaign utilizing the unique blend of art, culture, and community for which the city is widely known.

Shine the Light on Suicide showcases the works of local artists in the form of large, masterfully-painted lightbulb sculptures, which can be discovered scattered around downtown Aurora. The artists’ work serves as a reminder to people, and the community at large: Suicide is a serious epidemic that cannot be ignored.

In addition to the twenty art sculptures out on display on the streets of Aurora (14 are found in downtown Aurora), the Shine the Light on Suicide campaign created by Simply Destinee, a youth dance team whose mission is to encourage awareness and understanding when it comes to suicide, is sponsoring a slew of events all month long. Such events, from poetry readings on Sept. 19, to informative presentations by the Kane Co. Sheriff, Suicide Prevention Services, and Simply Destinee on Sept. 20, both at Santori Library, will focus on promoting both the awareness and prevention of suicide.

The events and festivities began at Aurora Downtown’s First Fridays in September. Aurora Downtown, an organization of business and property owners within SSA #One is also a sponsor of the project. 

More community events focused around Shine the Light on Suicide kicked-off Sept. 2 at Fox Valley Mall with a public meet and greet with the artists, as well as performances and speeches by Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, Hope for a Day, and the Aurora Police Department.

On Sept. 5 at Aurora’s City Hall, Mayor Richard Irvin signed a proclamation allowing for the erection of street art associated with the cause. This proclamation officially gave artists and local city organizers the go-ahead to finalize the installation of the 20 lightbulb sculptures.   

Liza Oliva, of Simply Destinee, founded the Shine the Light campaign last year.  “It originally started with the concept of lightbulbs because we want to shine a light on suicide; and last year we had no budget at all, we literally asked for mounds of donations of art supplies [to] try to find the most cost-effective way to make a lightbulb with the kids… It was essentially a group project,” Oliva said. “The point of the project was to have inspiring messages, to shine their light and spread positivity,” she added.

Oliva explained that the project allowed kids to discuss the touchy subject. The initial aim, she said, was to get the artwork into schools and displayed in public places, where it could serve as conversation pieces, around which people could openly “talk about suicide and not have to feel ashamed or uncomfortable.”

But this year, the Dunham fund, which encourages positive, educationally innovative community programs, chipped in to patron the building of the lightbulb art sculptures. “This way,” Oliva explained, “the lightbulbs would open the door to people speaking about the subject and for people to feel comfortable to speak up and address concerns [of their own]. The biggest stigma for suicide is that people feel embarrassed to reach out and ask for help. We know we don’t have all the answers, but if we can get people to talk about the subject, that’s half the battle.”

One participating artist, McKenzie Fitzpatrick, commented on the significance of her lightbulb sculpture, saying: “I used lyrics from the song 1-800-273-8255 by Logic, to reflect Simply Destinee’s message” of how music can save lives. Logic’s song, likewise, is a melodious PSA which tackles the epidemic of suicide, especially among young people.

McKenzie’s lightbulb, on which the lyrics of 1-800-273-8255 are painted (the number being that of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline), is but one of many sculptures that can be found on and around the streets of downtown Aurora.

A map and photographs of the sculptures, as well as artist testimonials, can be found at www.simplydestinee.org or by scanning the QR code found on signs and posters throughout downtown. For more about Simply Destinee and their mission, go to www.simplydestinee.com.  

Additional reporting by Victoria Alexander.