The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Downtown mural promotes education on renewable energy

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Ben Allan Smith
Iowa City-based artist Thomas Agran paints a mural on Wednesday. He has been commissioned by MidWestOne Bank to complete the mural in its alley. (Hayley Anderson/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa City continues its appreciation of public art with a newly unveiled mural in downtown at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center.

The recently unveiled work is Exploring Renewable Energies of Iowa, an interactive mural incorporating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) learning to educate children in the Iowa City community.

Members of the Public Digital Arts Cluster, consisting of faculty members in performing and visual arts, engineering, and computer science, collaborated with the city Public Art program as well as the city Parks and Recreation Department to create an art piece on renewable energy.

“We wanted to depict the beautiful facets of rural Iowa, and we explored ways to better capitalize each of our areas of expertise,” said Stephen Baek, a UI engineering assistant professor. “[The mural] is a public art, and somewhere, we can all contribute our different disciplines to serve the community.”

For the project, Baek worked with photographer Dana Keeton to create the foundation of the mural, consisting of photographs of rural Iowan areas and characteristics.

“I [helped] create the large photo mural that is the background of the built-wall installation,” Keeton said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “He created an algorithm that uses multiple photographs to create one large photo mosaic, and I created more than 6,000 landscape photographs of Iowa to create the mural.”

RELATED Link: Downtown District discusses impact of public art

The mural also features various interactive elements, including windmills and solar panels, to allow for a tactile form of education for visiting children.

“STEAM is a fairly recent educational approach to learning,” Marcia Bollinger, the head of the Public Art Program and Public Art Advisory Committee, said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “For this project, we wanted to include all components of the STEAM acronym to help children understand the concept of renewable energy such as wind turbines, water power, etc., and make it fun.”

The Public Art Program, established by the City Council in 1997, promotes visual art as an important part of the city’s culture recognition as well as a way to enhance everyday life throughout the town.

On Aug. 30, 2017, the committee met to discuss possible places where murals could enhance downtown. The meeting placed an increased emphasis on creating pieces with creativity and functionality, which the recent mural seeks to embody.

“Public art is reflective of the vitality of a community,” Bollinger said in her email. “Providing opportunities to artists through the Public Art Program helps support them and encourages them to hopefully stay in our community and grow their talent.”

The city is still in discussion about creating additional murals.

“Art is always something that makes our society more powerful or enjoyable,” Baek said. “This kind of project where everyone comes in with a different background and creates a work in public widens the horizon of the audience to help them see the world in a different perspective.”

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