Iowa City looks for more public feedback on new mural

As the City of Iowa City and Public Space One continue with their plans to create a new mural focused on racial equity and social justice, the two are looking for more community feedback to inform the artwork.


Jeff Sigmund

Photo Illustration by Jeff Sigmund on Thursday, March 25, 2021.

Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter

The City of Iowa City is asking for the community’s feedback regarding a new mural coming to the Capitol Mall parking ramp.

The mural project was initially approved in the summer after the Iowa Freedom Riders asked for more space for Black art in Iowa City. “The Oracles of Iowa City” has been a work in progress since. The mural will include colorful patterns that are similar to those found in West African traditional rituals and ceremonies.

Iowa City Public Art Program Coordinator Marcia Bollinger said a project for the parking ramp has been on the City’s agenda for a few years, but the initial idea fell through right before this project needed a space. She said the coincidence made for perfect timing.

“It’s not a very aesthetically pleasing building, so the Public Art Advisory Committee who oversees public art programs decided that they wanted to refocus those funds on the Capitol Street parking ramp and work with the local community that honored racial equity and social justice.”

She said the city wants this to be an organic, hands-on process. Once the funding was finalized for the project, Bollinger said the Public Art Program reached out to Public Space One and its Center for Afrofuturist Studies.

The City of Iowa City has donated $30,000 for the project, and $12,500 has been raised by community groups for the mural. According to the project’s website, the mural’s theme comes from W.E.B. Dubois’ Double Consciousness, which focuses on “the internal conflict experienced by Black people or colonized groups in an oppressive society.” The design has not been finalized.

John Engelbrecht, director of Public Space One, said the organization became involved in September. While there was a clear want for action on the project, he said Public Space One wanted to ensure the project wasn’t rushed.

“We’re talking about a long-term process and we realized we can do this better if we spread this [process] out and hopefully get it completed within a year,” he said. “…It’s important for us to represent the community, especially the Iowa City communities that’s not often heard, especially downtown in large, vibrant colors.”

Nichole Shaw, a University of Iowa student and a journalism fellow with Public Space One and the Center for Afrofuturist Studies, said opening the project up to public comment via a survey and an online forum on April 1 will prove essential to finalizing the vision of the mural.

RELATED: Iowa Freedom Riders continue push for change with Fourth of July protest

Editor’s Note: Nichole Shaw is a previous Daily Iowan employee and current board member of Student Publications, Incorporated.

She said people are already filling out the survey to give feedback, but Public Space One is still collecting data from when the survey opened on March 18.

“So far, it seems as though people are really excited about seeing this happen,” she said. “The majority of the responses [this far] are positive and excited about how they can be involved. We’re excited to hear that because the whole point of this is that we’re starting a dialogue and this mural is not the end all be all.”

Even though it is harder to get input right now because of the pandemic, Engelbrecht said the mural team wants to hear community feedback. The survey specifically asks how Iowa City community members feel about murals in general and what they think about this specific project, asking to include any concerns. He said the project doesn’t end once the paint dries on the ramp.

“This work is happening and it’s not just the symbol of the mural, but an ongoing process to open up spaces,” he said. “We are planning a youth mural workshop as well. And we are working to create fellowships and places young Black people and young Black artists can get connections…We’re trying to go against the mainstream, unjust reality.”

While survey input continues to spill in and Public Space One plans ahead for public forums where Iowa City residents can discuss their feelings about and suggestions for the mural, Bollinger said she doesn’t know how community input will factor into the project.

“We’re starting to talk about what we are going to do with the input and how it’s going to come into play in terms of the project itself,” she said. “It will be considered in the entirety of the project.”

As the project moves forward, Shaw said Public Space One is looking at the mural project as a way to get young Black artists engaged in the community and to inform the Iowa City community on how race informs the way in which we live in the world.

She said the project has impacted her in a positive way and she can’t wait to see the conversations the community has at public forums and in survey responses regarding the mural and the programs Public Space One plans to create for Black creators.

“Being a part of this project has been rewarding this far because it’s one of the few spaces in my life right now where I feel like I can speak and do so unapologetically,” she said. “And that’s a huge part of what this mural is hoping to achieve in the community as well.”