Wendy Streit: Using Public Art to Help Small Businesses

Lockport, Illinois—a suburb of Chicago—won our annual Strongest Town Contest this year, and we’re doing a special week of content right now to celebrate their win and explore some challenges the city is facing. 

One genuinely fun and compelling story that we heard about from Lockport involves rubber duckies. Huge, people-sized rubber ducky statues, actually. During the pandemic in 2020, leaders and residents in Lockport were watching local businesses struggle to stay open as activity downtown dwindled. At the same time, a popular annual arts event was cancelled, and there was a desire to fill that gap with something else.

Wendy Streit, chairwoman of Lockport’s Summer Arts Committee, had an idea. What if the city partnered businesses that were doing well (like big box stores and other large businesses) with local shops and restaurants that were struggling? A comfortable business would sponsor an artistic, locally-made rubber ducky statue outside a struggling downtown businesses, and help shine a spotlight on that place and put a smile on Lockport residents’ and visitors’ faces. Streit also brought in a local business “passport” concept she’d seen in a neighboring city: patrons could collect stamps and win small prizes for visiting a certain number of businesses and duck statues.

The project has been a huge success, with businesses seeing increased activity and downtown coming back to life. In this interview on The Bottom-Up Revolution podcast hosted by Rachel Quednau, Streit talks about the many partners she worked with to make this happen and demonstrates what a creative approach can do to help businesses succeed in tough times.

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