Oz Park

If statues could talk, what would they say? That is the question at the heart of Statue Stories Chicago, a special new innovation in public art. This citywide arts project, which launched August 6, gives voice to Chicago's most important statues and sculptures, including Dorothy (above) and friends from "The Wizard of Oz" in Lincoln Park's Oz Park.

Recently, my five-year-old daughter and I enjoyed a picnic with some of our favorite characters in the delightful Oz Park, complete with the yellow brick roads of Oz and all its important, colorful characters. Children's author Lyman Frank Baum, creator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, lived in the Lincoln Park area in the 1890s.

Chicago-based artist John Kearney was commissioned to create the four statues that dot the park in the early 1990s: The Tin Man (below), The Cowardly Lion, The Scarecrow, and Dorothy & Toto. Now, with Statue Stories, these statues and many more can come to life with a simple scan of a QR code, tap of an NFC tag or by entering a mobile URL into your smartphone. Imagine my daughter's surprise when Dorothy and her pals called us up to chat right on my cell phone!

Oz Park - Tin Man

"Statue Stories Chicago calls upon people to look at Chicago's public artworks with new eyes and ears," said Jessica Taylor, VP of Experience Design at Antenna Lab - which served as a technical supplier on the project. "Each statue has a unique story to tell, including Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln Park, the lions guarding the Art Institute of Chicago, the eloquent Paul Laurence Dunbar, and the giant Picasso."

Art Institute

To hear the statues speak, you'll receive a "call back" on your smartphone from the statue by using one of the three options listed above. You don't need to download anything (save for a scanner app should you choose a QR code). We scanned the QR code and before we knew it, Dorothy was ringing my phone. She told us a delightful story about how she landed in the park, along with a bit of history. Even Toto chimed in with a few barks!

"The idea was to create a spontaneous experience, where people could discover Statue Stories for themselves," Taylor said. "We intentionally steered away from creating an app that people would have to download in advance, and instead we opted for low-cost technologies such as NFC and QR codes. We think this preserves the spontaneity of each experience and ensures that the content is available to a much broader audience."

Shedd Aquarium - Man with Fish

You'll find talking statues all over the city. The statues are voiced by some famous names, including Carol Burnett, Steve Carell, Renee Fleming, Bill Kurtis, Elizabeth McGovern, Bob Newhart and David Schwimmer, among others. Chicago's famed Lookingglass Theatre provided the voices for L. Frank Baum's famous characters.


Some Statues at a Glance: 

  • By the Shedd Aquarium, Steve Carell  gives voice to the statue of Man with Fish (pictured above), scaling back on the fish jokes.
  • Shonda Rhimes voices Miró's Chicago in Brunswick Plaza, telling us what it's like to have a giant fork sticking out of your head.
  • Bob Newhart creates and voices a monologue for a statue of his character Bob Hartley from "The Bob Newhart Show."  He is perhaps the first person to give voice to his own statue.
  • Does the passing public pout or preen?  David Schwimmer takes on the role of Cloud Gate, revealing what the "Bean" has actually seen.
  • Renee Fleming captures The Spirit of Music at Theodore Thomas Memorial, revealing how a city of hog butchers learned to love classical music and opera.
  • John C. Reilly animates Scott Turow's monologue for Abraham Lincoln: The Man.
  • Johnny Galecki of "The Big Bang Theory" swaps physics for astronomy, giving voice to the great Copernicus.
  • Bill Kurtis animates Montgomery Ward, the entrepreneur who battled the city to preserve Chicago's lakefront.
  • In Lincoln Park, Jack McBrayer plays up the lighter side of a young William Shakespeare.

We can't wait to "meet" some new statue friends! To learn more about Statue Stories Chicago, visit statuestorieschicago.com. These beloved statues will have things to say for a year, through Aug. 1, 2016.

Photos: Oz Park - Dorothy by vikramjam via flickr; Oz Park and Art Institute by Adam Alexander; Man with Fish by Andrew Wilkinson via flickr