Des Moines Register
May 28, 2015
It's been a rainy month, but so far, at least, you can't swim on Ingersoll Avenue — unless you're part of an upcoming art project.
An animated video of a swimmer paddling through blobby black and white waves could soon show up on the upper east side of the building that houses Red Bistro and Adio Chiropractic at 2925 Ingersoll Ave. The billboard-sized image will come from a projector built into a bubble-top skylight in the roof of Moberg Gallery next door.
The video, "So Much Water So Close to Home" by Grinnell College associate professor of art Matthew Kluber, will occupy the first of 40-some sites the neighborhood group Restoration Ingersoll plans to fill over the next few years along both Ingersoll and Grand avenues between 42nd Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. The city's first animated artwork could help define both that neighborhood and its surroundings.
GrandRapidsMuseum from Richard Barger on Vimeo.
"When we think about great cities, we think about memorable places. We think about their icons," Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation director Jessica Rowe said. She mentioned Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Gate" ("The Bean") in Chicago's Millennium Park, as well as Paul Manship's golden "Prometheus" rising from the plaza at New York's Rockefeller Center.
Even smaller works of public art can help "dispel blandness and sameness" by making an area unique, Rowe said.
Ripple effects of public art
Des Moines has made remarkable progress toward that goal over the last decade thanks to various public and private partnerships, said David Schmitz, who starts his new job Monday as director of the Dubuque Museum of Art after several years as a public-arts specialist for the Iowa Arts Council.
He credited the speed of Des Moines' progress to "relatively low walls between different institutions.
The City Council helped develop the private nonprofit Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation in 2004 and has watched it play a role in a series of landmark projects in the years since, including a temporary bridge that New York artist Mary Mattingly plans to unveil Saturday in Water Works Park.
Schmitz explained that public art projects are often part of broader community and economic development plans — serving either as a catalyst, such as the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, or a capstone, such as Jun Kaneko's ceramic "Dangos" on the Principal Riverwalk.
Major initiatives like these have had ripple effects, prompting local artists and arts advocates to install projects on a smaller scale, such as the sculptural bike racks that liven up the East Village or Van Holmgren's mural of Chris "The Bachelor" Soules on Court Avenue.
Next on Restoration Ingersoll's installation list are a white abstract sculpture by Tommy Riefe on the sidewalk at Moberg Gallery and a colorful abstract mural by Chris Vance on the concrete walls around the parking lots on the south side of the street, downhill from Clear Channel.
Later, artist Larassa Kabel may sculpt a deer out of durable materials so people can touch it or even climb on it for a photo.
The idea came to her during one of her dog-walking trips to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, where most of the art is hands-off.
Defining the neighborhood
Restoration Ingersoll's leaders aim to enhance the streetscape improvements they started several years ago with new sidewalks, planters and benches. They hope artwork will help further mark Grand and Ingersoll as a bustling corridor on the city's west side.
"They're the avenues that connect downtown and the (Des Moines) Art Center," group member Soozie McBroom said.
Since Restoration Ingersoll started in 1998, its leaders have wanted to install public artwork, but plans were delayed for one reason or another as other neighborhood stakeholders got involved. At one point, the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority proposed some art projects to strengthen its bid for a federal grant but then scrapped its application.
"We decided, let's just do something," Restoration Ingersoll member Mark Holub said. Public artwork "was one thing that we could keep moving forward."
So they enlisted Moberg Gallery's help and started knocking on doors, asking residents and business owners to carve out some space for art. Chiropractor Jeff Stickel, who owns the building where the new video will be projected, has given the project his full support.
There isn't a budget for the overall plan, Holub said, but the video installation got a $10,000 boost from the Iowa Arts Council. (Gallery owner TJ Moberg declined to say how much the entire installation will cost.) Organizers plan to pay for each additional project one at a time, raising private funds as they go.
Building momentum for more art
Holub figures a big splashy piece like the Kluber's "swimmer" or Vance's mural will help encourage other donors to chip in.
"It's like seeing the (Pappajohn) Sculpture Park downtown. People went, 'Oh, now I get it,' " Holub said.
The city approved the new video proposal and decided it could go up with a billboard permit.
"It's not like it says 'Eat at Joe's,' " Moberg said.
Kluber created the video in rainy 2008 to remind viewers of "our relationship with water, both locally and globally," according to his application for the Arts Council grant. He explained that Des Moines' location at the fork of two rivers has literally shaped the city, making it "a community that has greatly benefited and suffered by its proximity to these waterways."
Moberg had hoped to test the video Thursday night, but the rainy forecast postponed his plans. Eventually, the gallery may swap in other artists' videos from time to time or organize a contest for college film students to project their projects on the same wall.
As Moberg put it, "It's a giant movie screen, ready to go."
Take a tour
Find all kinds of public artwork around town on the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation's website, www.dsmpublicartfoundation.org, and mobile app, available at Apple's App Store.
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