Iowa City Downtown District solicits public opinion on the future of public art

Public Input Meeting

MERGE — Wednesday, Aug. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

BenchMarks was the first ICDD-sponsored public art project; this bench is from 2012, its inaugural year. — file photo

On Wednesday, Aug. 30, interested community members and aspiring creators of public art in downtown Iowa City will have a chance to share their ideas with the Iowa City Downtown District (ICDD) and with each other in a public input meeting to be held at MERGE (136 S Dubuque St). The event begins at 6:30 p.m.

The ICDD hopes to get input from “artists, supporters and enthusiasts for the arts, leaders of local arts groups, as well as downtown property owners who are interested in helping give home to projects both permanent and pop-up,” Thomas Agran, Director of Public Art, said in an email. Agran, who started in his role last month, has worked on some small projects with the ICDD already, but sees this meeting as the “kick off” to the larger scope of his plans, which also include a new website for the Downtown Iowa City Public Art Project that launched yesterday.

“The information gathered and conversations started will help form the scope and direction of the ICDD’s efforts,” he said. “While I have some goals in mind, I am hoping this meeting will bring forth a host of new ideas. It is important that the public art that we invest in supports the artists who live here and speaks to its context — those who work as artists and who are passionate in their support for the arts will provide vital guidance for the best ways to achieve that.”

The ICDD has a strong foundation of fostering collaboration between artists and business owners.

“Sometimes property owners have a wall they’ve always dreamed of having a mural on, and sometimes artists have had similar dreams. Just having a go-to to help facilitate those connections can sometimes make things happen,” Agran said. “The ICDD has also dabbled in programs that work with RFPs [requests for proposals] to fund small arts related projects, and I can see based on the track record of those endeavors growing them into more substantial programs.”

In the immediate future, Agran hopes to use the information and ideas gathered at the public meeting to help develop and flesh out the city’s goals. The data will be compiled on the website, along with plans for next steps.

“I am confident some initial trends will emerge,” he said, “and we’ll talk at the ICDD about how we can best work to achieve some of those desires.”

One idea already in the works is an alley mural program set to launch this spring, that will work similarly to the already-established BenchMarks program, ICDD’s first public art initiative. The effort will include both big projects and small, and is part of a larger initiative to improve the alleyways downtown. That sort of two-birds-one-stone approach is key to Agran’s vision.

“Working to help define artists as creative problem solvers in our community may open doors to different funding avenues, especially as related to structural and infrastructure investments,” he said. “Mainstream solutions are often expensive, and if we can funnel some of those resources to artists, we might be able to turn liabilities into assets in inventive ways that enrich our community.”

Agran is keeping an open mind about the form the city’s relationship with artists will take. Commissions and collaborations are both on the table, as is the potential “to get better visibility and homes for some of what’s already going on.”

“I think if you live in the community, own property in the community, work as an artist in the community, and you have a brilliant idea — bring it on,” Agran said. “Let’s try and get those ideas off the ground.”

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