When the phrase “gone to the dogs” is used, it’s usually not uttered in the most positive fashion. But in Macomb, Illinois, the term is 100 percent positive as the community has embraced a local beloved canine figure and showcases the dog – or rather, dogs – throughout this west-central Illinois community.
When Rocky on Parade public art project, named after Western Illinois University’s iconic bulldog mascot, Col. Rock III, aka Rocky, debuted in 2013, WIU Art Professor Bill Howard, the brainchild behind the community art project, was “thrilled” to have 14 sponsors step forward to claim a Rocky statue. He would have been happy with 10 this year. Instead, Howard got an additional 23 sponsors — that’s 23 new Rocky on Parade statues — and in less than two weeks, something he calls “amazing.”
“The community support, the backing, for this project just blows my mind,” Howard said.
The total number of dogs, which have been painted by local artists – WIU students, faculty, staff and community members showcasing their talents and creativity – throughout Macomb and the WIU campus will total 37 after the dogs are placed at their permanent homes following Western’s Oct. 3 Homecoming weekend celebration. The dogs, which are installed on concrete pedestals, bear the name of the artist and the sponsor on a plaque, and stand guard outside numerous Macomb-area businesses and campus buildings. And in the age of social media, the dogs are often the focal point of selfies, in Facebook posts and throughout Twitter.
For a town of 20,000, half of which is comprised of students part of the year, Howard said it’s simply incredible for business owners and residents to commit to making the public art project bigger and better each year. Sponsors pay $1,500 for life-size dogs or $3,000 for larger-than-life statues, with money raised going toward student scholarships in the Department of Art.
“This isn’t Chicago, but I think Rocky on Parade is just as big as the Cows on Parade project. We are a small town, and our businesses and organizations are constantly asked to support a project or a program. The fact that 37 sponsors have stepped forward over the past two years to support this project is outstanding and says a lot about how this community feels about this University,” added Billy Clow, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication.
Queen Hibbler, a sophomore art major of Romeoville, whose dog “Jean-Michel Rocky” will grace Western’s Alfred Boyer Baseball Stadium, sponsored by the WIU Parent and Family Association Class of 2011, summed up her experience as a chosen artist for the 2015 project
“As artists, we are immortalized, so to speak through this project,” Hibbler said. “Because of Macomb’s size, more people are going to notice our work and enjoy these for many years to come.”
WIU junior graphic communication student Mariah Bartz of Macomb, who created “Molecule Rocky” sponsored by the WIU Foundation, echoed Hibbler, adding that the artists have left a legacy.
“We’ve left our mark,” Bartz said.
Hibbler created her dog after her favorite artist Jean Michel Basquiat, while Bartz created “Molecule Rocky,” which features the chemical symbols for love and happiness in the brain. Bartz’s mother, stepfather, aunt and uncle are all science educators as well, so the chemical symbols were a “natural choice.”
Wesley Village residents will have a super hero — “Super Rocky” — standing watch over them thanks to senior art student Erin Lundgren’s design.
“I hope that Super Rocky makes the residents and visitors of Wesley Village smile every time they see him,” Lundgren, of Galesburg, said. Howard added that the local artists selected for the 2015 Rocky on Parade project “exceeded all expectations and then some.”
“We are so fortunate to have so much talent in our community,” Howard said. “This project is at a national level in terms of talent and artistry, but also the support from campus and community members. It’s just awesome.”
A map showing all of the statues will be available after they are placed around town and campus.