New ‘Scribble Lights’ installed in downtown Iowa City for holiday season

Iowa City’s Downtown District partnered with local artist and UI alum Ali Hval to install new “scribble lights,” which will remain in the Pedestrian Mall through the winter season.


Isabella Cervantes

The Scribble Tree light installations, created by Ali Hval, are seen in the Pedestrian Mall on Dec. 11, 2022.

Madeleine Willis, News Reporter

As members of the community walk down Dubuque Street in Iowa City in the Pedestrian Mall, multi-colored strings of lights illuminate the lines of trees on the main promenade.

The artist behind the light installation “Scribble Lights” is Ali Hval, a University of Iowa alum who received her master’s degree in painting and drawing in 2019. Hval was commissioned by the Iowa City Downtown District to create the art project, which took her three days to put up.

The set of six “scribble” trees were created from rope lighting and fastened to the trees with zip ties.

“I kind of came up with this idea of doodle trees, or scribble trees — whatever you want to call it — just where all of these lines kind of move up and down the trunk,” Hval told The Daily Iowan. “It was kind of inspired by gesture drawings, like free-flowing drawings, to wrap around the trunk.”

The art piece on the trees was installed in November for the holiday season and will remain up during the winter months. The brightly lit trees can be viewed in front of Aspen Leaf Frozen Yogurt at 125 S. Dubuque St. across from the Fieldhouse Bar and DC’s Sports Bar.

Hval, whose work uses ceramic, fabric, installation, and painting, also added lights to other parts of Iowa City, including a light installation and mural outside Studio 13 and a mural on Elrays Live & Dive.

She’s also painted 40 murals across the U.S. In Iowa, Hval has painted murals in Mason City, Webster City, Coralville, Clinton, Corydon, in the Med Quarter District of Cedar Rapids called “Choose Kindness,” and a mural in the Czech Village called “Mucha Meets Iowa.”

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Betsy Potter, Iowa City Downtown District director of creative services, said she reached out to Hval about doing a light installation on trees with rope lights, and her idea was to create doodles on the trees.

“I used around 400 feet of rope light per tree and tons of zip ties,” Hval wrote in an email to the DI. “I started by wrapping one color of rope light around the tree, positioning the curly cue, and zip tying them into place. Finally, I plugged them in and secured the cords to the ground with stakes.”

Hval said it has been nice to hear positive feedback from the Iowa City community about her work downtown.

“It feels great being able to walk downtown and see my work in public, and even better when I see other people snapping photos in front of it,” Hval wrote. “It makes me feel more connected to downtown and like my work is making a difference in the community.”

Hval will return to the university to teach painting and drawing for the spring 2023 semester.

Nancy Bird, Iowa City’s Downtown District executive director, said the feedback on the new lights has been positive.

“Every year, we are looking for ways to support holiday lighting and dressing up downtown for the holidays,” she said.

Bird said they wanted to celebrate the work of local artists, especially work such as Hval’s lights that are unique.

“When you see these lights, you will know that it’s downtown Iowa City,” she said. “You won’t see that kind of lighting anywhere else. It’s really based off of creative elements and the artist that lives here.”

She said the lights will stay up through the winter to eliminate some of the darkness in such a popular downtown area, Bird said.

Some UI students passing through the ped mall have taken notice of the freshly installed lights.

Jasmine Lee, a UI second-year student, said she noticed the new “swirly” lights were not here last year. Lee said she thinks art downtown is noticed by the Iowa City community.

“I am just glad that I am a part of a community that appreciates art,” she said.

Lee said art makes people happier, and it makes the community more enjoyable.

“Especially when it is cold, seeing something nice makes it more bearable,” she said.

Maddie Fitzgerald, a second-year student at the UI, said the lights add something new and cool to the ped mall.

“I walk through here so often. It’s just fun to have another extra thing,” Fitzgerald said. “I think just the ped mall is a place. I feel like so many people walk through that it’s a good place to kind of have something to add since it is such a good location.”

Hval said it is inspiring to see how much the lights have affected the community.

“You see people are interacting with it, which is really exciting,” she said.