‘Doors Downtown’ to bring new art to Iowa City alleyways

A new public art program for the people of Iowa City titled Doors Downtown is now accepting applications for artists, and will select winners to paint doorways in downtown alleyways this summer.


Contributed photo of a concept from Doors Downtown.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

The Iowa City Downtown District has been expanding public art for years.

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For the past 10 years, Iowa City Downtown District has been working to increase opportunities for local artists. From BenchMarks, a program that allows younger, less experienced artists to paint public benches to larger mural projects that take prior knowledge of public art, the Iowa City Downtown District gives an array of local and professional artists opportunities to show their work in a public setting.

Betsy Potter, the director of creative services for the downtown district said that while the programs do offer an array of projects, artists with some experience are lacking opportunity. To amend that, Iowa City has decided to offer a new public art program — Doors Downtown.

“There’s one end of the spectrum and there’s another end of the spectrum, so there’s no middle ground until now,” Potter said. “Our public art coordinator, Thomas Agran, had been kind of playing around with the idea of that middle ground public art program, and so that’s where Doors Downtown came from.”

Doors Downtown provides a chance for artists to take on a project that is larger than BenchMarks, but not as time intensive as a full mural. The program allows artists to paint doorways in the alleyway behind the Englert Civic Theatre. The installations are planned to be finished by the end of this summer and are sponsored by GreenState Credit Union.

Potter said that there is already artwork in the alleyways of Iowa City which has garnered a great deal of positive attention. The Iowa City Robot by Ryan McGuire can be found on the backside of the Ped Mall’s Filmscene.

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“There’s already one painted mural on a door in that alleyway and it has brought so much fun attention,” Potter said. “That was intended to be a mural, so they won’t be as elaborate as that one, but it will provide a wonderful little walk through that because they’re all within a few short blocks.”

Potter said that the Creative Services team with the Iowa City Downtown District has been pushing to add more artwork to the alleyways in the area. She said that while many alleyways in other cities are primarily for holding trash, the Pedestrian Mall means Iowa City alleyways are walked through frequently.

Because of that, Potter said that Iowa City has chosen to give special attention to the alleyways to make them more inviting.

“We’ve been, you know, doing various initiatives over the years to make them a little bit more friendly and welcoming and safer,” Potter said. “That’s why a lot of you see a lot of the murals happening in the alleyways.”

Like BenchMarks and mural projects, Doors Downtown is a paid opportunity for the selected artists. Applications are currently open for artists to submit their ideas. Potter said that because this program is new, involved parties have been doing everything in their ability to get the word out.

“We just want as many artists to submit their designs as possible,” Potter said. “The call is still out for people to submit. That might be the biggest challenge with new programs — getting the word out and getting people to submit.”

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