WILLMAR - Colorful and creative places to sit are popping up across Willmar this summer. At least eight concrete benches, covered in painted tiles, are being installed at different locations across the city, thanks to a partnership between the Willmar Area Arts Council, Blue Cross Blue Shield and help from Gossman Pottery.
"It is such a cool project," said Janet Olney of the Willmar Arts Council.
Olney said the council first heard of a bench project being done in Appleton and decided to bring a similar idea to Willmar. Funding for the project is from Healthy Together Willmar, the healthy communities initiative by Blue Cross Blue Shield. The concrete benches were cast by Willmar Precast and the blank tiles were produced by potter Bill Gossman.
The art on the tiles though is coming from individual community members of all ages. At various city events, including the kickoff event for Art Express and the Mayor's Bike Ride in May, a tile painting station has allowed any who want to participate to put their artistic touch on a tile for the benches.
That opportunity will be available again Thursday during the Art & Culture Trek at Robbins Island.
School students also have had the opportunity to take part.
"We invite people to come paint them," Olney said. "They can paint whatever they want, as long as it is in good taste."
Each bench top takes several dozen tiles to cover, so the Arts Council is looking for more people willing to paint.
"We are going to need at least 700, 800 tiles," Gossman said. "We need about 500 more."
Olney said groups who would like to host a tile painting event can contact the Arts Council at 320-235-8560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We've had a lot of kids do them," Olney said.
And people don't need to worry about their artistic talent. All are welcome to participate and share their creativity.
"Everybody is an artist," said Jais Lacktorin, who was helping his father Gossman install the tiles on a new bench Tuesday in front of Rosita's on Fifth Street Southwest.
The benches will be found throughout Willmar including outside the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building, the Willmar Public Library and Midtown Plaza. There are already completed benches at the Barn Theatre and Rosita's.
"We are going to find a couple of parks to put them in" as well, Olney said.
Public art projects such as the benches and the painted traffic signal boxes, a previous Arts Council project, bring vibrancy and color to Willmar.
"They brighten up the city. Change the drab gray to something colorful," Gossman said.
Olney said the public reaction to the projects has been great and the city has been willing to lend a hand when help is needed.
"The city has been very enthusiastic about it," Olney said.
Not only will the art benches bring even more color to Willmar, it is also something the entire community can take part in and be proud of.
"We are trying very hard to be inclusive. We wanted it to be something the community could take pride in," Olney said. "Pride in your community is part of a healthy community."