Iowa City Public Art Committee works to create a colorful community

The Iowa City Public Art Advisory Committee has created a strategic plan to evaluate the existing art in the area and expand upon programs already offered.


Hayden Froehlich

A mural by Thomas Agran depicting Ben S. Summerwill is seen on the wall of the MidwestOne Bank in downtown Iowa City on Tuesday, 19 November, 2019.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

People in Iowa City are surrounded by murals, statues, and other artistic displays when they walk through the Downtown District, a trait that adds color to their journeys.

In an effort to place more emphasis on public art in Iowa City, the Public Art Advisory Committee recently created a five-year strategic plan to improve upkeep of artwork in the area, involve more artists in creating public work, and expand where art is located.

The committee began constructing its plan in February and spent the last 10 months gathering input from the community and making revisions. It presented the plan to the Iowa City City Council earlier this month, which gave the green light to begin.

The plan will allow the committee to reflect on what’s been done with public art and establish what to do next, said Marcia Bollinger, city staff contact for the Public Art Program.

Through the plan, she said, the committee will look at completed projects and then look at bylaws and procedures regarding public art and update those accordingly.

Over the next six months, the committee will evaluate what programs to add and encourage local artists to participate, Bollinger said.

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“There’s a value [in public art], and there’s going to be segments of the population that don’t have that as a value but for a university community, such as Iowa City. I think the expectation is that our environment be stimulating,” she said.

The committee’s job is to allocate the budget it receives from the city and support public art, committee chairperson Vero Rose Smith said.

With the recent approval of the plan, the fiscal 2020 budget for public art increased to $50,000, Smith said. For the previous four fiscal years, she added, the budget was $25,000.

When Smith became chairperson, she was concerned that the city did not consider its public art a collection. With the strategic plan, there will be an effort to inventory the art around the city and do a condition assessment on each piece, she said.

The committee hopes to have an accessible, interactive map on the city website in the future that shows were all the artwork is, she added.

Public art can help foster creativity in the community and help create a sense of identity, Smith said. There is also a high return on investment in art — with every $1 invested, there is a $3 return for communities, she added.

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“I think that’s really crucial as we look to the future for Iowa City and how we can make this a cool place to continue living, how we can attract more artists here and keep this a creative community, and how we can foster inclusion at all levels,” Smith said.

Thomas Agran, Iowa City Downtown District public art director, initially brought this issue before the City Council last year. Agran said he felt there was not enough focus on public art and its funding.

With the strategic plan, the city will be able to focus using its funding to give the Downtown District and the rest of the area a human touch, he said.

“I tend to think of it as a civic and community tool that really helps neighborhoods identify themselves, their causes, things they care about, the issues in their community,” Agran said. “So, I view it as a municipal obligation to help support the expression of the members of the community.”