Witness Wall provides space for reflection during times of conflict

Located in front of Public Space One, the Witness Wall welcomes anyone a part of the Iowa City community to create art and express feelings toward the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and more.


Tate Hildyard

The Witness Wall is seen in front of Public Space One in Iowa City on Monday, July 6, 2020. The Witness Wall is a decorative plywood wall that serves as a response to COVID-19 and recent events.

Madison Lotenschtein, Arts Editor

A long, plywood wall held up by three wooden posts sits outside of Public Space One, located at 229 N. Gilbert St. The wall —covered in art — is aptly named the ‘Witness Wall’ and was created by Public Space One for local artists and passersby to express their feelings toward the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and more.

When the pandemic began to seep its way into Johnson County, the Public Space One team knew they couldn’t host galleries inside the house. To accommodate the predicament, Cory Christiansen, the project coordinator, came up with the concept of ‘The Witness Wall’ with COVID-19 themes in mind. The wall broke ground on April 27.

Businesses across Iowa City have colorful paper hearts taped to their windows in honor of frontline workers. Christiansen said these reminded him of Valentine’s Day and decided to contribute to the wall with COVID-19-themed paper candy hearts.

“I thought, you know, if Valentine’s Day were right now during COVID, what would they say?” he said. “And so they’ve got little sayings that are kind of like, ‘Zoom me,’ and ‘test me’ and little things like that that are just reflective of the times now.”

Local artist Julia Wolfe was the first to create art on the wall. After seeing several people gardening in their yards, Wolfe wrote down the quote, “To plant a garden is to believe in the future,” on the wall, and drew plants to pair with the excerpt.

“I thought it would be a good addition to the wall, something optimistic that sort of balances out all of the crazy stuff we’ve been dealing with since COVID-19 got to the U.S.,” she said.

While the pandemic is still ongoing, the art on ‘The Witness Wall’ has since led to the conversation of racial injustice within the United States: The Black Lives Matter movement. The bottom outline of the wall is filled with the names of those who have lost their lives due to police brutality, and the words, “Black Lives Matter” can be seen spray painted in blue and black across the wall.

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At first, people would have to ask Public Space One about contributing art to the wall. Presently, everyone in the Iowa City community is welcome to come as they are and create art as they see fit, said John Engelbrecht, the Public Space One director. However, the easygoing direction leaves space for the possible development of bathroom stall art, which typically consists of swear words.

“We’re really hoping that, if such a thing happened or if there was something that we found offense to, then it’s also up to the community or us to take issue with that and make sure that we can erase that and we can replace that with something that’s more loving or kind of empathetic,” Engelbrecht said.

The wall’s narrative changed from the pandemic to the Black Lives Matter movement, to also being about both subjects, he said. Engelbrecht said that walls similar to theirs can be seen in town.

“I think a lot of walls in this community have suddenly become witness walls in this way,” he said. “So I like to think that we can offer a little space to that conversation.”

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