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DOWNTOWN — Ten butterfly sculptures have spread their wings across the Magnificent Mile as part of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's latest citywide art project, The Flight of the Butterflies.

For this initiative — which combines nature, art and storytelling — the nature museum is installing 29 larger-than-life butterfly sculptures across the city. Each is 6 feet tall and was designed by an artist from around the city.

A QR code displayed by each butterfly sculpture activates a filter with butterflies fluttering around on screen. Credit: Leen Yassine/Ecoglobalsociety

The first flutter of butterflies landed Monday in Jane M. Byrne Plaza, 180 E. Pearson St., and along the Magnificent Mile, where they'll stay through the end of the year.

The remaining 19 butterfly sculptures will find their homes this summer in neighborhoods like Garfield Park, Humboldt Park and Lincoln Park.

Visitors can scan a QR code next to each butterfly to activate a butterfly filter on their phone camera, making it appear as though butterflies are flying around the sculptures.

This is the first time the Magnificent Mile Association has brought augmented reality to Michigan Avenue, said Kimberly Bares, the association's president and CEO.

Visitors can find more information about each sculpture and artist and a map of the butterflies' locations on the nature museum's website.

“Art and storytelling can be such powerful tools to think about our connection to the natural world, to ask ourselves, ‘What is our relationship to nature and what does that mean for our wider community?'” Erin Amico, the nature museum's president and CEO, said at a Monday preview of the butterfly installations.

“Chicago's diverse and incredible artists are some of our city's greatest ambassadors and storytellers. Their connection to nature … is one of the things that inspires us so much at the nature museum.”

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's “Flight of the Butterflies” sculptures were installed at Jane M. Byrne Plaza Monday, May 20, 2024. Credit: Leen Yassine/Ecoglobalsociety

The Flight of the Butterflies project not only embodies the nature museum's mission to connect people and nature, but it also ties into its “far-reaching and vital conservation efforts,” Amico said.

The sculptures are modeled after two butterfly species: the eastern tiger butterfly and endangered regal fritillary butterfly, Amico said.

Each artist approached their butterfly differently. Hector Duarte linked butterfly migration with human migration, depicting the butterfly as a symbol of “freedom in the face of physical and mental borders,” according to its description. Artist Rahmaan Statik used the butterfly to showcase the juxtaposition between nature and technology, and Mexican American painter Salvador Andrade Arévalo was inspired by light.

Artist Rahmaan Statik shows the “aesthetic juxtaposition between nature and technology.” Credit: Leen Yassine/Ecoglobalsociety
Mexican-American painter Salvador Andrade Arévalo focuses on light as nature's main energy source, with the goal of scattering as much light and color as possible. Credit: Leen Yassine/Ecoglobalsociety

Other artists used their sculptures to connect Chicagoans across neighborhoods and as love letters to their communities. Like butterflies, many artists have “migrated across the city” to beautify Chicago's landscape, said Janell Nelson, the Englewood Arts Collective's cofounder and executive director.

“All of these sculptures from all of these different artists represents the abundant talent from all corners of the city and how we all cross pollinate and migrate together,” Nelson said at the unveiling Monday.

When the nature museum reached out to the Englewood Arts Collective for this project, Nelson knew the sculpture had to be vibrant, she said.

“I just had this vision of like colors … and patterns,” said Nelson, a graphic designer. “We wanted to represent the tapestry of us as a group and how we are connected to the larger fabric of the city.”

Ten butterfly sculptures were installed along the Magnificent Mile Monday morning. The remaining 19 sculptures are in various neighborhoods around Chicago. Credit: Leen Yassine/Ecoglobalsociety

Following Nelson's vision, muralist, fine artist and Englewood Arts Collective cofounder Joe Cujo spray painted the sculpture with a rainbow gradient. Mosaic muralist and ceramic artist JoVonna Jackson added glittering mosaics.

Along the base of the butterfly sculpture — painted the collective's signature blue — visitors can see a collage of faces, which Janell created using photos of past Englewood Arts Collective events, she said.

“We wanted to shine,” Nelson said. “We wanted to reflect and really just twinkle, and [JoVonna Jackson] really went to town.”

Jackson and Nelson said they feel “the law of attraction” was at work because the museum's initiative aligns so closely with Jackson's previous art projects, which include work for the Englewood Nature Trail beautification project and a nature-themed mosaic for Millennium Park called “Lily a day.”

From left: Janell Nelson, JoVonna Jackson and Joe Cujo of the Englewood Arts Collective pose for a photo with their butterfly sculpture at Jane M. Byrne Plaza, 180 E. Pearson St., Monday morning. Credit: Leen Yassine/Ecoglobalsociety
The Englewood Arts Collective butterfly sculpture includes a collage with faces of neighbors and artists. Credit: Leen Yassine/Ecoglobalsociety

Jackson uses recycled tiles in her mosaic projects, which ties into the museum's conservation mission, she said. On the butterfly sculpture, the tiles are laid in a basketweaving pattern, a nod to Jackson's love of knitting and textiles.

“These tiles are from all over different other projects, which is very cool to me,” Jackson said. “Like if you ever go on a scavenger hunt to look at my pieces in the city in the realm of public art, I've definitely recycled … different material.”

It's an honor to have their art displayed in the heart of Chicago, but Nelson and Jackson said they're also excited to welcome the butterfly back to Englewood when winter arrives.

“We migrate. We bring it back home,” Nelson said.

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