Nomade by Jaume Plensa, The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, Des Moines, Iowa

I have to admit, sculpture never appealed to me as much as two-dimensional works of art. That all changed, however, after visiting the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There was something magical about seeing those works of art in a lush garden setting that resonated with me, and I have been hooked on sculpture ever since. I take every possible opportunity to visit a sculpture garden and have not been disappointed in doing so. There is always at least one sculpture that shocks, inspires, awes, or challenges me. The experience will be equally rewarding for the seasoned art aficionado or art novice, and I have listed 10 reasons why that is true.

Sacred Stone Circle at Harvest Preserve, Iowa City, Iowa

1. Get Outdoors

If you reside anywhere near the midwest, you are recovering from a long winter hibernation. Getting outdoors to enjoy the spring weather, fresh air, flora, and fauna on its own is worth the trip to the sculpture garden.  Just being outdoors has proven health benefits, including decreased stress, decreased levels of anxiety and depression, and improved attention.


2.  Exercise

Most of us could use a little more exercise these days. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that only 20% of adults get the recommended 2 hours and 30 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking) needed to live longer and decrease the risks of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers. While most sculpture parks are not large enough to provide two-and-one-half hours of brisk walking, every little bit helps.


I, You, She or He . . . by Jaume Plensa, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan

3. Family Time

Finding art activities with a family can be challenging, there can be so many concerns – like carrying your screaming child out of the Impressionist Wing at the Chicago Institute of Art. There is also the concern of children damaging a work of art, like the 12 year-old boy in Taipei in 2015 who tripped and punched a hole in a $1.5 million painting by Paolo Porpora. While most sculpture parks ask that you do not touch the work, most pieces are made to withstand the elements – including the occasional child explorer. Most parks are open with lots of space to roam, and some are interactive, allowing you and your family to experience a piece to its fullest potential.



4. Time to Think

Perhaps time with the family is not what you had in mind; instead, you are looking for a bit of an escape. The sculpture garden provides the ultimate sanctuary for meditation. Where else can you wander through a meticulously pruned and lush garden, stumble upon a stimulating work of art and find a bench to sit down and ponder? As mentioned above, just being in a natural environment decreases your stress levels and improves your ability to concentrate on your thoughts.


They Are Waiting by Nnamdi Okonkwo, Harvest Preserve, Iowa City, Iowa

5.  See Something New

A visit to a sculpture garden is sure to be a unique experience, even if you have been there before. Most gardens have a wide variety of work from multiple artists so you are likely to see something you have never seen before. If you have visited the sculpture garden before and there are no new exhibitions, try going at a different time of day or in a different season. The changing environment effects how the the work is interpreted and how you respond to it.


6.  Get Inspired

If you are an artist, or anyone looking for inspiration, the sculpture garden is a great place to find it. Sculpture is form in space exhibiting artistic elements such as surface, edge, texture, color, scale, mass, balance, volume, movement, and contrast. Viewing the work and recognizing these characteristics can be helpful in creating and evaluating your own work. An added benefit of sculpture is that you can easily change your perspective by viewing the work from multiple angles, giving you endless interpretive possibilities.


Motu Viget by Mark di Suvero, Grand Rapids, Michigan

7.  Learn About Sculpture

One major advantage of a sculpture garden is having multiple pieces together in one place. Most will have plaques with title and artist information often complemented by a brochure or website with detailed information on the artist and their inspiration for the piece. As you view more sculpture, your understanding and appreciation for the genre will increase.



8.  Support Cutting Edge Art

Cabin Creek by Deborah Butterfield, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Many sculpture gardens charge admission and while this could be viewed as a negative, consider the costs involved in maintaining the gardens and purchasing new art. Sculpture is incredibly expensive and without the patronage of the public, future exhibitions would be impossible and the collections would cease growing.


9.  Enjoy the Garden

Gardens are constantly evolving ecosystems that have been painstakingly orchestrated to provide the maximum pop throughout the available seasons. If you live near a sculpture garden and have viewed every piece from multiple angles in multiple seasons, go and enjoy the ever changing beauty of the garden itself. Keep your eyes open, and you are bound to appreciate an aspect of the garden you never noticed before.


Crawling Lady Hare by Sophie Ryder, Cheekwood Estate and Gardens, Nashville, Tennessee


10. Unique Photo Opportunities

In today’s world of digital photography and social media, many people are looking for a unique shot of themselves or friends to share. Sculpture gardens provide many such opportunities that you just can’t experience anywhere else. Artists pushing the definition of art are expanding the boundaries of the art experience. Be a part of it!



The American Horse by Nina Akamu, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Hopefully you are inspired to visit your nearest sculpture garden. Follow this link, Wikipedia List of World Sculpture Parks, to see a listing of worldwide sculpture gardens and parks. You can also see the following link, 11 of the World’s Greatest Sculpture Parks, from Seattle to Oslo, for a review by Rachel Lebowitz of 11 great sculpture parks from around the world. Feel free to share via our email or our facebook page pictures of you with your favorite sculpture.  We would love to see them!


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Cory Christiansen
Cory is the founder of the Artists Action Network. He has an insatiable appetite for all things creative and is always on the lookout for talented people doing inspiring things.

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