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The Story of the 'Man on a Bench' in Chicago's Smallest Park

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It's official name, Park 474, suggests a certain amount of anonymity, perhaps what you'd expect considering the 6-by-9-foot plot of land on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus is Chicago's smallest public space. But symbolism looms large here, due to a statue, "Man on a Bench," a campus icon meant to recall architectural giant Mies van der Rohe.

"It's been taken in as part of the campus," according to Katherine Stetz, IIT's Vice Provost of Student Affairs and Dean of Students. "In the day of selfies, students are always taking photos. It's not an official symbol of the campus, but it's become a mascot."

Located in a courtyard between Hermann and Perlstein halls, the white statue may be more recognizable than the school's official mascot, Talon the Hawk. According to Stetz, It's one of the first things new students see during orientation, and the homecoming events are often held nearby.

The sculpture, a bronze piece covered in white resin that was designed by sculptor George Segal, was commissioned in 1986 to celebrate Mies' 100th birthday. Funded by the B.F. Ferguson Fund of the Art Institute of Chicago, it honored the former director of the architecture program who designed the IIT master plan and 20 campus buildings, and was Segal's first work in Chicago to be on public display outdoors.

The Park District maintains the land and the Art Institue takes care of the statue, but the school has adopted it as its own. Site of numerous photos, it's one of the only parks in the city with its own Facebook page. While Stetz says "Man on a Bench" has never been painted or vandalized, it's been involved in numerous pranks over the years. A student dressed up as a monkey and sung to the statue a few years ago, and during a farewell party for Professor Lew Collins, a former dean of psychology and then president of IIT, someone dressed up as the statue and was placed onstage in an IIT auditorium. Many in attendance thought someone had moved the statue inside until it suddenly spring to life.

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