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September 28, 2022

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7/4 Temporary Memorial & Memorial Art Installation Questions & Answers

At the Tuesday, September 27, 2022 meeting of the City Council Committee of the Whole, the City Council expressed support for separating the temporary memorial and the art installation, and relocating the temporary memorial to the Rose Garden, adjacent to City Hall at 1707 St. Johns Ave. Based on extensive feedback from the families of victims, victims, community members, and expert input, the City recognized the need to consider the impact of the temporary art installation and the temporary memorial on the mental health of the community individually and collectively. The City’s intent is to balance the mental health needs of individuals and the greater community in the wake of the mass shooting. 

  • A temporary 7/4 memorial will remain in place in downtown Highland Park until the dedication of a permanent memorial (date is uncertain).
  • A temporary memorial will be accessible to the public at the Rose Garden, located adjacent to City Hill at 1707 St. Johns Ave.
  • This location addresses concerns and considers community suggestions by affording greater privacy to grieving families and others. It is accessible, and in close proximity to the site of the shooting.
  • The City will offer assistance in identifying a new location on private property to the artist who created and manages the organic public art installation at the southwest corner of Central & St. Johns, which had grown to be a multimedia, multi-faceted interactive public art display that was being used as an entertainment venue.
  • The Veterans Memorial at the northwest corner of Central and St. Johns will be returned to its intended state on a date to be determined in the near future. The City will communicate this information via various communication modalities including the City’s website (cityhpil.com), eNews (cityhpil.com/signup), and social media (@HighlandParkIL on Facebook; @CityHPIL on Twitter.)
  • Memorial items will be documented by the Highland Park Public Library’s Archivist. Family members will be able to review the items and keep items. The City will assist in the archival process of certain items from all displays.
  • A permanent memorial will be planned by the City based on feedback from victims, victims’ families, and the public. The City is cognizant that numerous victims are still recovering from physical injuries, and are currently unable to participate in these discussions.

The City recognizes that this is a weighty, emotional topic, and urges anyone in need to seek support. Free and confidential multilingual assistance from trained mental health counselors is available 24/7 via 211 Lake County. Visit 211LakeCounty.org, call 211, or text 898211.

Further details and information are available below in the Q&A. This is also available on the City's website.

1.     What are some key words to know before reading more?

  • Temporary memorials: grassroots expressions of mourning for victims of unanticipated tragedies, typically featuring items such as flowers, candles, letters/drawings, photographs, and religious items. People who were not directly impacted by the tragedy will often visit temporary memorials to reflect on the tragedy and pay their respects to the victims. Temporary memorials are a way for individuals to grieve and process trauma.
  • Memorial art installations: physical, large-scale public artworks that are created in response to a tragedy, often including memorializing aspects, such as victims’ photographs or names, as well as activities in line with the artist’s goals and the work’s statement or positioning. Activities may include writing letters, creating quilt squares, signing names, adding handprints to a message or banner, etc., following the vision for the piece. Each of these activities contributes to the work, such that the artwork itself become part of the community’s grieving process.
  • Optional/opt-in: allowing people to choose whether to engage (either passively or actively) with the memorial or art installation. The temporary memorial and any artwork pertaining to the tragedy should be situated so that they are readily accessible, but not so prominent that they cannot be avoided. Choosing a location where individuals can “opt-in” when they wish to engage with the memorial or the artwork, and “opt-out” as much as possible is helpful.
  • Do No Harm: the principle that leaders should carefully evaluate decisions to minimize and mitigate the inadvertent potential negative impacts. The City has been advised to apply this principle to this discussion to assist in balancing the differing needs of the community.
  • Disruption: using artistic elements to redefine a given space, thus creating a new space. Chalk art, for example, disrupts a stretch of sidewalk by encouraging passersby to pay special attention to a space they might otherwise not notice, giving them a new experience of that space, they inhabit regularly. By disrupting a space, artists call attention to the message or purpose of their art and help audiences to interact with the artwork.

2.     What is the City’s plan for the permanent memorial?

Based upon guidance from the Department of Justice Office of Victims of Crime and best practices from the lessons learned by other communities that have experienced similar tragedies, the City should avoid discussions pertaining to the form or style of a permanent memorial until a year after the tragedy, to allow victims who were physically injured to be able to participate in the process, and to give the loved ones of the victims and the community as a whole time to be able to move forward together.

3.    What is the timeline for developing, planning, and installing the permanent memorial?

The City is working to establish a framework for the development, planning, and installation process of a permanent memorial. This framework will be shared publicly for feedback.

4.    What is the value in maintaining a temporary memorial until a permanent memorial is erected?

The City has been consulting with the Department of Justice Office of Victims of Crime, trauma-informed clinicians, and staff across all departments. It is recommended that a temporary memorial be accessible to the public so that there is a natural space for all individuals who are grieving to find comfort. However, the memorial should do no harm. Many people benefit from having a place to go to pay their respects, reflect on the tragedy, and process their own unique experiences. Having a dedicated space that is in line with the best practice recommendations regarding accessibility is important, as is ensuring that participation is optional.

5.    Why was it recommended that the memorial be relocated and the art installation be removed?

It is the City’s responsibility to manage the differing needs in our community. Many community members have been vocal about how these spaces have helped them in their own resiliency journeys. However, in the time that these spaces have been helpful to many, they have also been harmful to others. Those who have found these spaces to be triggering have not been able to begin the journey that their neighbors have traveled. The City has learned from counselors serving victims of the tragedy, business owners, employees, parents, and members of the public that members of our community are actively avoiding downtown Highland Park because they find the prominent location and bright colors of the memorial art installation to be triggering. Moreover, the City has heard from people who do not have the privilege of avoiding the intersection (such as students on public school buses, business owners and their employees) that the space is triggering their trauma.

6.     What are some “best practices” for creating and maintaining a temporary memorial?

The guidance the City has received indicates that temporary memorials should:

  • Be accessible to the community.
  • Be in an “opt-in” space.
  • Avoid triggering trauma.
  • Be informed by discussion with victims and victims’ families.

7.     What is the difference between a temporary memorial and a memorial art installation?

Temporary memorials are community-identified spaces that provide an opportunity for individuals to grieve and find comfort in community. Memorial art installations incorporate activities in line with the artist’s goals and the work’s statement or positioning. Although people may grieve and process their trauma at a memorial art installation, they are also actively contributing to a broader project. This can be helpful to some people.

8.    Why is it important to distinguish between a temporary memorial and a memorial art installation?

Although they may share some similar elements, ultimately temporary memorials and memorial art installations serve different purposes.

Temporary memorials serve as:

  • Commemoration of victims who were killed, survivors who are healing and those adjacent to the event, putting the focus on their individual personalities and experiences.
  • Reclamation of tragic sites.
  • A space for community grieving and healing in the aftermath of a collective tragedy.

Art installations following tragic incidents may have wide-ranging community impacts that intersect the purpose of temporary memorials but are also expressions of the artist’s vision. The purpose of a given installation may include:

  • Action & mobilization (typically in line with an artist’s objectives for their work.)
  • Using a prescribed artistic process to encourage interested community members to participate (with a goal of the process being therapeutic for the individual).
  • Creating spaces of beauty or visual interest.

9.     Why do some people find these types of installations helpful?

Temporary memorials offer a place for people (who may or may not have directly experienced the tragic incident) to grieve both individually and in community. Even though there’s typically no formal service or programming at temporary memorials, just visiting the memorial site becomes its own kind of ritual: a place where people can share their grief but process the trauma in a way that makes sense to them. People may leave memorial items at the site, even if they did not know the victims, because this is their way of paying their respects. Others may find some of the objects placed at memorial sites to be out of place or even inappropriate, but it’s important to remember that those objects had meaning to the person who left them.

People may find comfort in participating in memorial art installations and related activities/programming because the artwork provides them an opportunity to interact in a meaningful manner with their grief. Art installations bridge the gap between mourning and action. Those who feel comfortable to do so may contribute to the work and this focus on action may make help them to process their trauma by doing something they feel is productive and part of a larger whole.

10.       Why do some people find these types of installations to be unhelpful?

Everyone responds to trauma differently. Despite their good intentions, both temporary memorials and memorial art installations may cause re-trauma for survivors of the event and for those with secondary trauma because of the incident. They may find the installations to be an unwelcome reminder of the tragedy they experienced. For these individuals, location, scale and prominence, and disruption of familiar spaces are important considerations.

Because temporary memorials and art installations are physical spaces, sometimes incorporating structures or use of the public right-of-way (such as sidewalks), community members, particularly those who live or work in adjacent areas, may not have the opportunity to avoid them. The existence of the memorial or installation in these public or high-traffic areas requires all community members to passively interact with them, even those for whom the spaces are more upsetting than helpful.

When these installations are located in high-traffic, highly-visible locations, it can be difficult for people who find them to be harmful to go about their daily lives, and many change their habits to avoid the location altogether. For individuals who don’t have the privilege to avoid the area, prominent locations of these installations may trigger their trauma and make it difficult for them to move forward. This is why experts recommend that temporary memorials and memorial art installations be “opt-in.”

One complication is that people who do not find these installations helpful are typically very attuned to the fact that many of their neighbors do find comfort there and can thus be reluctant to share their experience because they don’t want to negatively impact others. This is why the City will support the artists in relocating the memorial art installation to a location that is in line with expert recommendations.

11.       Won’t people who are triggered by the memorial art installation eventually find it helpful?

Everyone grieves in different ways, and there is no one correct path towards resiliency. No matter how helpful one person may find a given space, no amount of time or effort may help another person to find comfort in that space – and that’s OK. It is our role to balance the differing needs of everyone in our community: to find a way to give those who need communal grieving spaces support and access to those spaces, and to give those who need to see and experience a return to familiarity to process their own trauma to have what they need as well. The relocation of the temporary memorial and the relocation of the memorial art installation to spaces that are accessible but “opt-in” will allow us to do that in a way that puts victims first.

12.      What is the difference between these current installations and the Veterans Memorial?

The Veterans Memorial, an example of traditional monumental public artwork, does share some similarities with both the temporary memorial and the memorial art installation. This is because they all offer visual elements that exist to commemorate people who were killed, and to provide a space for people to grieve, reflect, and remember. They each serve a purpose in helping create a community’s narrative of the tragedy and shared grief. However, the Veterans Memorial differs from the temporary memorial and memorial art installation in part because of the recency of the incident as well as the way in which the memorialized individuals are portrayed. The visual language of each installation impacts the way that people interact with the artwork. Taken together, this means that people may find the Veterans Memorial to be deeply meaningful but do not typically encounter the same degree of visceral emotion experienced with the memorial and art installation related to the 7/4/2022 tragedy.

13.       Why remove the memorial art installation when the City actively supports the same policy goals?

The City actively manages its public spaces. The artist has defined the space for her artistic expression as one of healing and action. Although the City strongly supports the artists’ admirable goal of banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and denouncing gun violence, the City is bound to be equitable in the administration of its public spaces.

14.      Who is advising the City? Were trauma specialists consulted?

The City is working closely with the Department of Justice Office of Victims of Crime, mental health clinicians, and trauma-informed therapists and counselors. The City is also dialoguing with victims and the families of those who were killed. City staff are meeting regularly with resource partners, which include Family Services of Lake County, 211 Lake County, the Lake County State’s Attorney, the Highwood Public Library & Community Center, the North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic, and Moraine Township. The City also welcomes input from the public at [email protected].

15.       Why is it harmful to use words like “healing” and “recovery”?

“Healing,” “recovery,” and similar terms are not helpful to everyone, because everyone’s situation is different. Some individuals will never fully recover from their injuries. Therefore, avoiding the use of these words is respectful of their experiences.

16.      Did the City work with the artist(s) to discuss the use of space?

Yes, the City has been in conversation with the artist(s) since July 2022. In early September, City staff met with the artist(s) to discuss the City’s concerns, share feedback from members of the public and victims, and dialogue with the artist(s) to find a solution that minimizes expressed distress to the community but celebrates their freedom of expression. An open dialogue will continue. 

If individuals have questions, they can email the City Manager’s Office at [email protected] or call 847-926-1000. 

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