The Lens to center downtown


A new sculpture means a change of scenery for downtown.

By Alex Kramer
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Downtown will see have a new centerpiece before long.

 A new sculpture titled The Lens by renowned artist and designer Cecil Balmond will take up residence on the Black Hawk Mini Park on the Pedestrian Mall by August 2017. The sculpture will feature a 30-foot stone disc with a series of twisting louvers that will capture and refract light and color, and the sculpture will be lit up at night from lights embedded in the disc.

“With the expansion and the moving of the music school as well as the art museum, downtown is really becoming a major cultural hub for Iowa City,” said Marcia Bollinger, the public art coordinator for the project. “It’s a good time to really bring that life and make it clear to everyone that it’s part of the Iowa City culture.”

The project initially took off after Iowa City committed funds to reconstruct Washington Street after many problems arose, particularly a large water main break two years ago that caused a lot of suffering for many businesses, Bollinger said.

“As a part of that project, the city decided that the Pedestrian Mall needed to be updated,” she said. “One thing that stood out very clearly is that the location selected for the sculpture would be perfect for some signature piece. It’s very visible with all the traffic going down Dubuque and Washington [Streets] and the Pedestrian Mall foot traffic.”

The project has been a very public process, Bollinger said.

“We’ve had numerous meetings with the public to gain their input,” she said. “We’ve included the owners and operators of businesses as well as the general public from the downtown area.”

Of the 26 artists who submitted work, the selection was narrowed down to three before making the final decision, Bollinger said.

“It was decided that Cecil Balmond would be the artist to work with,” she said. “He had some great ideas in terms of what he envisioned for the location.”

One priority for selecting the artist was that he or she had some kind of relationship to Iowa, of which Balmond has none, said Bill Nusser, a member of the artist-selection committee and owner of Hands Jewelers, 109 E. Washington St.

“When we interviewed him, he had such a strong sense of what Iowa is and who Iowans are. He had done a tremendous amount of research,” Nusser said, “The finalists’ work were all of tremendous quality so we could have really rolled the dice and picked one, but in this particular case we were so impressed with Balmond and his intimate knowledge of everything involved in the process, we chose him.”

The sculpture will encourage the existing culture and promote the area to be used for what it has been in the past, Bollinger said.

“The ultimate goal of what he came up with highlights the history of the area’s being a gathering place but also, during the ’60s and ’70s, a central location for protests and for people to voice opinions, both politically and philosophically,” she said. “It’s very much designed to continue to encourage that kind of activity.”

The artwork is to aid in giving the downtown a sense of center, with the goal of getting people downtown, Nusser said.

“It will be a place where people will get their graduation or wedding pictures taken, where groups will meet,” he said. “Because it’s so interactive, it can’t help but attract people.”

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