Painted intersection part of public art push in downtown Cedar Rapids

First of several street paintings

Julie Coppock, development director at Theatre Cedar Rapids, helps paint the intersection of 2nd Ave. and 3rd St. SE on
Julie Coppock, development director at Theatre Cedar Rapids, helps paint the intersection of 2nd Ave. and 3rd St. SE on Saturday, July 20, 2013, as part of a new public art initiative. Officials say they hope to paint the next intersection before the end of the summer. (The Gazette/Emily Busse)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The intersection of 2nd Avenue and 3rd Street SE is taking on water.

This particular “flood” comes in the form of a giant, eye-catching, multi-colored water droplet painted directly on the street.

Volunteers painted the street art,Water Drop, on Saturday during the farmers market. It spans the intersection in blues, purples, and grays. According to city officials, it’s the first of several street paintings set to line downtown intersections along 3rd St. SE.

“Our goal is really to do this first one and figure out what really works and continue that down 3rd Street, keep pulling people down that main thoroughfare,’” said Jennifer Pickar, Director of Communications and Marketing for the Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It takes you from the core of downtown to the New Bohemia area and we want to pull people across to Czech Village area as well, keep people moving through the community.”

The idea for painting an intersection originated during a workshop with For the Love of Cities author Peter Kageyama when he visited in October 2012. Locals and officials immediately loved the idea, and with help from the city’s Arts Culture & Entertainment District and participation from Theatre Cedar Rapids, the painting began.

The roughly $2,000 project aims to catch the eye of downtown visitors and draw them through the city.

Marilee Fowler, President of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the project coincides with the installation of parklets for outdoor dining, new restaurants, upcoming flower planters to adorn the center of downtown streets, and the recent reopenings of the U.S. Cellular Center and the Paramount Theatre.

“We figure this should be a destination in Cedar Rapids,” she said, adding they hope to have the next intersection painted before summer’s end.

The Water Drop painting was designed by Daniel Kelchen, scenic artist and assistant technical director at Theatre Cedar Rapids. The 28-year-old stood in the sunny intersection Saturday, filling in the geometric design and helping volunteer painters from Theatre Cedar Rapids contribute.

Kelchen said he wanted to keep the concept simple by representing a single element, acknowledging that the idea of water in the flood-plagued downtown Cedar Rapids “is not a pretty thought.” “But this is,” he said, gesturing to the bright design.

“[Water] usually comes screaming up from that way,” he added, pointing towards the river. “...But this particular drop is heading toward the river.”

The water droplet design intentionally appears somewhat “unfinished,” with missing pieces falling in from above.

“The message is that even the most basic elements can’t come together without every piece in place,” he said.

Overlooking the design, Kelchen explained he hopes that people pause while downtown and spend time experiencing the entertainment and art.

“To slowly but surely, from both ends, push the arts to tie this artistic hub [Theatre Cedar Rapids] and this artistic hub [Paramount Theatre] together, all the way out to New Bohemia with some color and visual art,” he said. “...Anywhere you can put color is better than it otherwise could have been.”

This newest downtown art is one of several initiatives to promote the vibrancy of Cedar Rapids, Pickar said.

The Art Museum entrance ramp gained a colorful, collaborative mural painting in April, and the city unveiled the Murals & More: Cedar Rapids Mural Trail in May.

“The art downtown as we rebuild, I think we’re just going to see more and more of that,” Pickar said.

She mentioned upcoming art installations planned for the downtown library and riverfront amphitheater.

“We want people to feel like they’re part of a vibrant community, that their city is cool,” she said. “We want to create an atmosphere where we can get to show off our creativity.”

Pickar explained that this first painted water drop is just one small step toward a growing art presence downtown.“I think we’re just one drop in the bucket,” she said. “If this inspires other people to take this idea and do it in their own neighborhoods or driveway, that would be great.”

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