Smile Politely

Year of the Park, A to Z: Citizen’s Park, Champaign

As Year of the Park continues, we will be documenting every park in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, Champaign County Forest Preserves, along with other odds and ends between July 2020 and more like August or September 2021. You can see what has been covered thus far by clicking here. If you have suggestions or ideas or feedback, feel free to contact us at


Citizen’s Park 


1311 Garden Hills Dr., Champaign

a picnic bench with a tall totem pole piece of art in the background

Photo by Justine Fein-Bursoni.


This pocket park in north Champaign was created in 1990. Seems like the city had possession of it, and as they do with most of their property or problems in the north side of town, dumped on to someone else and decided to have a picnic at some fancy schmancy house out near Lincolnshire Fields, laughing it up, about all the things they don’t have to care about. Hard to say, but I am going to venture a guess! 

Anyhow, this is a small, small park at just 0.3 acres, and until recently, featured literally almost nothing as far as amenities go. I believe it had a picnic bench, the one above, and nothing more really. It appears as though it has been recently utilized by the Neighborhood Services Department for small block parties focused on the youth in the area. That’s good stuff, honestly, and the more of that we can get, the better. 

Here and now, it’s the home to one of the ten outdoor “gallery” spaces for a project led by 40 North and Spurlock Museum called The Great ArtDoors. It features a piece by one of my very favorite creatives in town, Michael Darin, who does programming and engagement for Japan House, in addition to other interesting things as well. I won’t share his address, but if you happen to get to see his Halloween decorations each year, you will know what I mean. That shit scared the fuck out of my kids, and in all the right ways. Seriously, big time stuff. 

Anyhow, check out his piece, called “Sprout” below. Here is information on it, from his proposal to 40 North: 

A totem of sorts, SPROUT precariously swells toward the sky with rings of color providing a visual narrative of our historical past. Though solidly based in the ground, SPROUT stretches upward highlighting the passage of time, symbolic legend, lineage and notable events. Some bands are thick and bright and bold reflecting success, happiness and progress, while others are dark and muted revealing our times of hidden pain, suffering and sadness. No two cycles are the same but they are needed as a solid foundation for growth, as an individual, as a community, and as a human race.

SPROUT encourages us as individuals to look at our past, not in judgment, but in appreciation. Noting the variations along the way, we can ourselves sprout change by simply remembering to look up.

Photo by Justine Fein-Bursoni.


OK, so this is what keeps me around and excited to do work in Champaign-Urbana. There are other things that make me want to move to Savannah, GA or Slovenia, perhaps, but on the whole, I can hang around a bit longer simply because of things like this.

Now, this little tiny park in what we all know is an underserved and unfairly attended neighborhood has a magnificent piece of art inside of it. That is better. Good. 

So what comes next? How do we ensure that the art either stays in place, or that the space becomes a permanent outdoor gallery spot that will ensure future use? What can we do to prop up the program, and encourage more people to get involved? How do we make positive that the artists who are being commissioned and paid to do their jobs are BIPOC and LGBTQ artists whenever and wherever we can? 

I am not sure I have all the answers, and I am not sure that anyone does, honestly. 

I can tell you that the solutions come from funding, and that the funding won’t come from a gaggle of wealthy people just dying to donate their capital gains into visual or performative arts. 

It will have to come from tax dollars, and from already well-funded organizations who believe in what this sort of thing brings to a community, and how it can aid in a healing process. 

In this case, Spurlock Museum donated $10,000.00 to ten artists for a total of $1,000.00 per artist per piece. This is a really positive thing. And a great start. But we all know it’s not enough, and so it should inspire you and I to keep pressing our elected officials, and the boards who appoint their executives, to make the funding of art a primary goal moving forward. 

Support these measures, and this work, as you are able, the best you can. 

Top image by Justine Fein-Bursoni. 

Related Articles