The window of a Wheaton ice cream shop has a sweet reminder of what makes the downtown a social center through all four seasons.
Before you taste a scoop of the maple cream cookie or any of the other inventive fall flavors at the family-run Kimmer’s Ice Cream, you can spend some time outside the storefront painted by artist Liesl Mann, who also happens to be the lead ice cream maker at the Front Street fixture.
In all, nearly three dozen storefront windows were turned into canvasses for 25 artists engaged by the city’s fine and cultural arts commission. It’s an effort by the Downtown Wheaton Association to invite visitors to make a day of patronizing shops and restaurants recovering from COVID-19 shutdowns.
“It’s definitely driving more traffic to the downtown,” said Isaac Yates, who co-owns Kimmer’s with his wife, Kimberly, the shop namesake. “Everybody is coming out to see the artwork.”
Their window shows familiar scenes from a community calendar turned upside-down by the pandemic.
In the upper right corner, Mann painted all the rituals of summer in Wheaton. The Fourth of July fireworks. A blue convertible from Friday night classic car shows. A pair of sneakers ready to be laced up for the Cosley Zoo 5K.
It’s a wistful look back on what was lost and a hopeful look to what’s ahead when we can all safely come together again.
“It’s just a conversation starter, which is awesome,” Yates said.
The theme for the displays — “Love Where You Live” — magnifies community landmarks and traditions, an antidote to a dismal and divisive 2020.
“It’s another way to generate not just community pride, but also to bring in people into our downtown area and to love what we love about it,” said Elle Withall, the Downtown Wheaton Association executive director.
The association’s online map will help patrons plot their visit to businesses, even designating “selfie stops” where they can shoot a picture beside some of the artwork.
It’s the second large-scale display of vibrant public art in the downtown this year, coming four months after the business group commissioned Aurora artist Jose Sanchez to paint storefronts in honor of LGBTQ+ Pride in June.
For this project, the city’s fine and cultural arts commission also recruited professional and student artists from schools in celebration of National Arts and Humanities Month.
A few took a more abstract approach. One window reminds people to vote.
“There’s just not been any opportunity for them, very little opportunity for them to create publicly, which is a driving force behind artists,” said Laurie Swanson, a commission leader. “They want to create just for creation’s sake, whether you’re a musician or a dancer or a writer or you’re a visual artist.
“So to have a chance to do that was like feeding their soul.”
Mann painted a window capturing the city’s heart and soul. She made such an impression at Kimmer’s that two other businesses enlisted her to paint their windows: Gia Mia and MOORE Toys & Gadgets.