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A Guide to the Art of 'Parks and Recreation'

We look back at the bad, the beautiful, and of course the murals as the series comes to an end.

On last night's Parks and Recreation finale, the inimitable Leslie Knope bookended the series' seven seasons with a graduation speech, encouraging all present to “find your team and get to work.” With those wizened words, she summed up the show in a single sentence, revealing at once the positivity, camaraderie and quirkiness that audiences have come to know and love. 

Although it often took a backseat to the rest of the humor, art had an important role in Parks and Recreation. While the works themselves skewed towards intense and serious, from perpetually unhelpful Jerry Gergich’s semi-nude paintings and pointillist works, to City Hall’s incredibly inappropriate wall murals, they provided a stream of gags and in-jokes throughout the show's six-year run. Essentially, it was a character in its own right—art, as a whole, brought history and context to Pawnee, and man, was it ridiculous. 

To bid farewell to the best team of public servants on television—Leslie, Ron Swanson, Ben Wyatt, Tom Haverford, April Ludgate, Andy Dwyer, Ann Perkins, Donna Meagle, Jerry/Gerry Gergich, and even Lil’ Sebastian—we pored over every episode to find the most memorable paintings, sculptures, and artworks in Parks and Recreation.

Season 2 Episode 9 "The Camel"

Spirit of Pawnee, Image via

Because of its not-so-subtly racist undertones, Pawnee City Hall's controversial "Spirit of Pawnee" mural has to go. Each department must propose a replacement artwork, so Leslie asks every member of the Parks team to come up with an idea. Tom bullies a local artist into creating an abstract work. Ann presents a lame rendering. April creates an avant-garde garbage masterpiece, while Donna shows off a revision of The Last Supper that features her selection of Indiana's most famous celebrities. Jerry paints a pointillist photomosaic he accidentally calls a "murinal," that gets completely ignored by the rest of the group. Ever the politician, Leslie decides to compromise—by meshing all of the ideas together. 

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Season 3 Episode 6 "Indianapolis" 

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Make no mistake: Ron Swanson isn't into the arts, but he's an expert when it comes to crafts. In this episode, Swanson shows off his desk decor, which includes a grizzly bear statue, vintage airplane photos, a golden gun, and a football. The poster he has behind his desk is from his favorite steakhouse, Charles Mulligan's. The design uses the 1800s photograph of famous boxer Mike Conley—an "overly manly man," according to Swanson, which explains his disappointment upon finding out that the restaurant has been shut down by the health department. 

Season 3 Episode 11 "Jerry’s Painting"

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The Parks and Recreation department attends an art show called "Visions of Nature." Ron gives everyone a warm welcome: "This room has several paintings in it. Some are big, some are small. People did them and they're here now. I believe that after this is over, they'll be hung in government buildings. Why the government is involved in an art show is beyond me. I also think it's pointless for a human to paint scenes of nature when they could just go outside and stand in it. Anyway, please do not misinterpret the fact that I am talking right now as genuine interest in art and attempt to discuss it with me further. End of speech."

While perusing the gallery, the civil servants find themselves standing before Jerry's masterpiece: a painting of topless Greek centaur Diaphena, who happens to look an awful lot like Leslie, alongside a cherub that looks like Tom. Leslie herself is empowered by the depiction, but a conservative activist compares the work to bestiality and cries for its destruction. After fighting to keep the painting, Leslie compromises once again, having Jerry repaint the work with Tom as the centaur, and keeping the original copy for herself. 

 

Pawnee City Hall Murals:

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Wedding at Turnbill Mansion, via

Pawnee Zoo, via

Sunday Boxing, via 

detail of Sunday Boxing, via

Sarah Nelson Quindle, via

As a bonus, here's an interview with the artist behind the murals: 

Season 4 Episode 5 "Meet N Greet"

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Throughout seven seasons, Tom has had many an ingenious startup plan. In Season Four, he and his pal Jean-Ralphio create Entertainment 720, "Pawnee's first and only entertainment media conglomerate," and fill their vast, new office space with modern furniture, a basketball court, exercise bikes, and even thrones. They then justify their frivolity on their website, explaining, "A 23rd century company needs a 23rd century office, and we spared no expense with ours—you gotta spend money to make it!" 

Season 7 Episode 11 "Two Funerals"

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Fan favorite Ethel Beavers returns for her husband's funeral. Seen above, she bids farewell to her beloved in front of the Bad Pawnee, Good Pawnee historical mural.

GOODBYE, PAWNEE!

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