Iowa City’s mural project is decorating downtown with color, and the University of Iowa Office of Outreach and Engagement hopes to do the same in Cedar County with a public-art residency.
The Iowa City mural project began after Public Art Director Thomas Agran held a forum in August 2017 for residents to voice their views on public art in the city.
“There were a lot of takeaways,” Agran said. “One of the big ones was that people were interested in seeing more murals downtown.”
Agran said the project put up six murals over the course of the summer. One of the more recent was done in collaboration with United Action for Youth and employed a number of local teen artists.
The mural was led by Iowa City artist Sayuri Sasaki Hemann, who said she met with the kids involved numerous times over the course of the summer to discuss the project. Through the discussions, the group decided on the theme of coexistence, using ecosystems and nature to convey the message.
The mural, finished in mid-August, depicts a vibrant scene of colorful bugs, birds, and other creatures in nature. Hemann believed the message was beneficial to the kids.
“Through this shared experience, they learned how to coexist within this group and coexist within the city,” she said.
Agran said he values public art because of the way it can affect the city. It can change the whole mood and message of the city, he said.
“Public art is an indicator of the vitality and strength of the city,” he said.
While the city has focused on public art, the UI has as well. The Office of Outreach and Engagement is creating a public-art residency program, said Maura Pilcher, the director of the Grant Wood Art Colony.
The program will be open to graduate students at the UI; twelve will be selected for the program, she said, and they will help create public art for Cedar County in the spring.
The public-art residency program began when Cedar County sought out the Outreach and Engagement Office and requested to have murals made, Pilcher said.
The office has created eight murals over the past four years for different counties, said Linda Snetselaar, the associate provost for Outreach and Engagement.
For this particular project, Pilcher said, the artists wanted to create a more intensive program. The residents will work with and receive instruction from professionals in the field, she said.
“The neat thing about it would be that the whole time they would have this goal of responding to the requests of Cedar County,” she said.
Snetselaar sees the program as a unique way for students to get experience outside the classroom.
“One of the things about going into communities as a student is that it allows them to do more than just memorization of a topic,” she said.
The program requires dialogue with the community the students will be working in, she said. The students need to talk with members of Cedar County and gather input on the work they will be making.
“This kind of offering where students can go into communities with faculty is just a fabulous learning experience,” she said.