If you’ve walked down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile recently, you may have spotted something you wouldn’t expect to see so far inland: Lighthouses. Fifty-one of them, rising 6-feet tall, painted and decorated by artists commissioned by nonprofit “The Chicago Lighthouse.”

“We created this public art display to celebrate access and inclusion for people of disabilities,” said Lisa Birmingham, chief creative director.   

The River Forest resident said audio and walking tours are available for tourists, which highlight each artist and the organization. Some 50 artists with disabilities helped decorate the lighthouses, and more than 100 artists total worked on painting the sculptures. 

“Each one is unique and each artist brings their own experience to their lighthouse,” Birmingham said. “The disability could be anything from muscular dystrophy [to] people who are legally blind who have painted. We have those with autism, ADHD.”  

Though she does not have a disability, Birmingham took the opportunity to paint her own lighthouse too. Because she has a background in medical illustration — drawing various surgical procedures for textbooks, patient education pamphlets and more — she painted structures of the human eye on her statute, naming it “Eye Wonder,” in honor of her many friends and colleagues who are blind. She made it textural, too, so those who are without sight can feel the structures of the eye. 

Birmingham’s and the other lighthouses will be on display on Michigan Avenue until Aug. 11, and are up for auction, Aug. 8-12. Those who wish to purchase a lighthouse, proceeds benefitting the nonprofit, should bid at Bidpal.net/Lighthouses. 

“They’re made to be outdoors,” she said. “You could even put it in a common space in your community.”

Nona Tepper

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