Statue Stories Chicago: Activated by Smartphones, Public Monuments Are Talking

Statue Stories ChicagoPhoto via Flickr/Vincent Desjardins

If statues could talk, what stories would they tell? If you’ve ever wondered what The Bean (or “Cloud Gate”) would say about its history, now’s your chance to find out. As part of a public art project called Statue Stories Chicago by Sing London—the company that chose Chicago as the first city for its U.S. debut—artists, writers, and others with Chicago roots are delivering two-minute monologues for landmarks across the city.


With the wave of a smartphone, the public monuments are coming to life with voices from actor David Schwimmer, television producer Shonda Rimes, soprano Renée Fleming, actor Steve Carell, and more as part of the Statue Stories Chicago project, which started this month.

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Funded by a one-year grant from The Richard Driehaus Foundation, Sing London is working with Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Second City, and Lookingglass Theatre to bring theater to the streets and parks of Chicago. Additional support for Statue Stories Chicago comes from Chicago’s Park District, libraries, museums, and from the Mayor’s Culture Department.

Statue Stories Chicago sing londonPhoto via Flickr/Anthony Doudt

Scan the QR code of a statue’s placard using your phone as you pass by, and you’ll get a call from The Bean in Millennium Park, the bronze visage of Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln Park, the lions guarding the Art Institute of Chicago, the bronze cow outside the cultural center, a statue of Copernicus, or even the 50-foot-tall untitled Picasso in Daley Plaza. The messages are contained on digital files activated by your smartphone, and photos of the statues even pop up on your caller ID, so you know who’s calling.

The pre-recorded messages, such as David Schwimmer as The Bean, who ruminates on what its mirror-like surface has witnessed, are both silly and serious. Some of the monologues stick with the history, while others are more imaginative.


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For example, author and Chicago attorney, Scott Turow, wrote and read the monologue of the Abraham Lincoln statue in Lincoln Park. To get the 16th president’s style right, he read through many Lincoln speeches to prepare. His monologue explores Lincoln’s unique personal history back to Chicago, a past which many Americans don’t actually know much about.

Others with Chicago ties have lent their voices to featured statues in a more humorous light, including Fred Willard, who recorded for Leif Ericson, and Steve Carell, who is the voice of the Man with Fish statue next to the Shedd Aquarium. Even the statue of the astronomer Copernicus was animated by actor Johnny Galecki, who played a physicist on the comedy show “The Big Bang Theory.”

Statue Stories Chicago sing londonPhoto via Flickr/beautifulcataya

For the next year, visitors can access historical takes from 30+ different public sculptures in Chicago. There’s currently a contest open to locals to write monologues to eventually give voice to a few more city statues. After debuting the concept of talking statues in Britain, Berlin, and now Chicago, Sing London is considering Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston for its next projects.

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Which statue would you want to hear from first?

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