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New interactive public art in downtown Cedar Rapids honors Orchestra Iowa musicians
In celebrating 100 years, the piece will draw attention to oft-overlooked individuals
CEDAR RAPIDS — A new interactive piece of public art in front of The Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids will help Orchestra Iowa toot its own horn as it celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Too often, the individual musicians who have helped one of Cedar Rapids’ biggest cultural institutions reach its milestone birthday don’t get the recognition they deserve, said Candy Wong, chair of Orchestra Iowa’s centennial committee.
Sound Wave, a 20-foot-long piece of art to be installed directly in front of the Orchestra Iowa ticket office near The Paramount Theatre, should help change that. The piece is scheduled for installation in early May.
On one side facing Third Avenue SE, the wave-shaped metalwork will have plaques enumerating every orchestra member who has served for more than 20 years — past and present. At installation, there will be 57.
“We’d like to have people understand musicians are vibrant people and they’ve chosen this type of music to play because it’s incredible,” said Wong. “The musicians, individually, never get recognized.”
The other side, facing The Paramount’s entrance, will give passersby a chance to be a musician themselves. With a complete pentatonic and diatonic set of chimes, pedestrians can indulge their serious compositions as well as whimsical impulses.
As it celebrates its first centennial, the piece serves one of Orchestra Iowa’s biggest objectives: raising public awareness in an accessible, memorable way.
“It adds something to downtown — it adds energy,” Wong said. “If it brings them a little bit of joy and makes them think about music, it’s worth it for everybody.”
Designed by local artist John Schwartzkopf in conjunction with metalwork artist Dale Merrill, the celebratory piece marking a portal between the past and the future for Orchestra Iowa is also a part of the Downtown Cedar Rapids SSMID’s (self-supported municipal improvement district) vision for downtown.
A first of its kind for downtown Cedar Rapids in a prime, visible location, it stands out among the many public murals added to downtown in recent years. With a significant downturn in foot traffic following the pandemic and remote work trends, downtown leaders hope it will strike a new chord.
“It creates buzz,” said Jesse Thoeming, downtown executive director of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. “It’s definitely part of our goal, strategy and mission to give folks a reason to come back and enjoy downtown.”
Downtown Cedar Rapids’ SSMID contributed about one-third of the project’s cost, which Wong estimated would total roughly $30,000. Other donors include nonprofit arts organization Murals and More.
With heightened requirements for precision in putting the pieces together, the Sound Wave was designed by Schwartzkopf to be a continuous piece with the “wave” emulating symbolism of the nearby Cedar River.
“This is something I’ve never done before,” said Schwartzkopf. “It was such an intriguing challenge.”
Schwartzkopf, known for simplicity and elegance in his art, has scores of pieces around Iowa, including the Linn County Courthouse benches and a mobile sculpture at Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust. Merrill’s local metalwork installations include the giant corn sculpture at the 35th Avenue roundabout in Marion.
Sound Wave will be made of environmentally friendly and durable PaperStone composite surface, as well as stainless steel.
Orchestra Iowa’s idea for art to celebrate its longtime musicians of the last century started with stainless steel stars lining the sidewalk in front of The Paramount, similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The idea was later axed for its impracticality in a cold climate with plenty of snow shoveling.
"For me, it’s one of those embellishments in a community … that makes it a nicer place to be,“ Schwartzkopf said. ”Just the idea of a fun spot where you can play downtown — anybody can do it.“
A celebration unveiling the new art installation is scheduled for May 13.
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