UI introduces new public art residency

The UI’s Grant Wood Art colony is introducing a new public art residency to create murals in rural communities.


Katie Goodale

Maura Pilcher, Grant Wood Art Colony Director, poses for a portrait in the Visual Arts Building on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018.

Rylee Wilson, News Reporter

The Grant Wood Art Colony has created a new residency at the University of Iowa focused on public art in community spaces.

The residency is open to graduate and undergraduate students and will take place over spring break. After the conclusion of the course, students will have the opportunity to create murals for communities in Cedar County.

Maura Pilcher, the director of the Grant Wood Art Colony, said there has been a need for this type of course in the UI community.

“We’ve been trying to come up with a more permanent solution [for] creating a student body that has the skills and [knows] the theory behind doing engaged work and doing public art in its professional form,” she said. “We’ve had wonderful success with our students up to this point with sending students out to communities and painting murals, but we really felt that there’s a need and interest in the larger picture in the theory behind it, the different philosophies, and the different materials that should be used.”

The course will be co-taught by Vero Smith, a curator at the Stanley Museum of Art, and Thomas Agran, the director of public art for the Iowa City Downtown District.

Smith, who holds a master’s degree in art, design, and the public domain from Harvard, hopes to give students not only the artistic skills to create public art but the professional skills as well.

“One of the main goals of the course is to give students the experience to professionally present themselves and their work, so they can actually win these commissions and be an artist contracted beyond the scope of the course,” Smith said.

Pilcher said the residency’s partnership with Cedar County is the result of a strategic plan UI students developed to create public art in the area. The residency is seeking funding from the Iowa Arts Council as well to help develop the mural project.

“There are a few public artists that have done a lot of work in these communities,” Pilcher said. “It’s something that there’s interest and demand for. I think they’re really excited to see what young artists are working on and their takes on how to invigorate a space. They really are interested in seeing those new ideas, and that’s something that UI students can offer.”

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Agran said rural communities in Cedar County see a need for public art.

“I think when somebody approaches a small town, and they have a lot of energy and say, ‘I really want to do a project,’ sometimes they’ll say, ‘Yes, we’ll do whatever it takes to make this work,’ ” Agran said. “While sometimes [in] a city like Iowa City, which we tend to associate more with this kind of work, it can be more challenging to actually make that happen.”

Smith hopes the residency will expand in scale in the future.

“We’re excited that it might be class that repeats, that it might be open in different ways to other types of area colleges, and that we can keep offering something like this,” Smith said.