116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Art is popping up in downtown Iowa City this spring and early summer — first in pop-up shops on the Pedestrian Mall, then in store fronts, windows and other sites offering passersby a free, pandemic-safe way to view indoor art from outdoor strolls.
“Often, we approach art from a non-gallery setting, knowing that we want it to be in front of people whenever possible, in people’s everyday lives,” said John Engelbrecht, executive director of Public Space One.
His group, abbreviated as PS1 and housed at 229 N. Gilbert St., is partnering with the Iowa City Downtown District for Art Onsite, a project designed to turn unused storefronts into exhibition spaces.
“You don’t necessarily have to have a (traditional) gallery and hang pictures on the wall for it to be art,” Engelbrecht said. “Artists are working in many different ways now.”
For the April launch, three pop-up pods have been placed in the Black Hawk Mini Park on the Ped Mall. In May, viewers will see a new slate of artists in different spaces downtown.
Currently, each pop-up pod is lighted for night viewing, and showcases the work of one artist:
Jeremy Chen, an artist and art professor at Grinnell College, with “Patient Waiting: A Requiem.” Artist’s statement: “The current and past precariousness of the world both globally and locally lead me to think about how we care for our most vulnerable, but also our perceptions of who is vulnerable or invulnerable.”
Gail Ray, a retired architect and artist from Bettendorf, with “Spring.” Ray said she experimented with drawing on her iPad, using several apps to create a series of faces on a long strip of transparent, painted Mylar, so light shines through the “happy spring colors” at night.
Adriana DeRosa, an MFA candidate in photography at the University of Iowa, with “when Something Shatters.” Artist’s description: “A meditative forest for viewers to sit and contemplate their relationships and purpose on Earth. Through multimedia approaches of sewing, embroidery, mold-making, video, and photography, I encourage my viewers to see their relationships with those that have passed on through a cosmic and timeless lens.”
The project grew out of “an interesting coincidence” between like-minded thoughts that Engelbrecht and Nancy Bird, the downtown district’s executive director, were having.
“With the pandemic, we started pivoting to using our outdoor spaces as an art viewing space,” he said of PS1. In late February, Bird told him the owner of a closed downtown shop was looking to have his windows used for something other than business, to foster interest in the space.
That’s when Engelbrecht and Bird decided they probably could find artists interested in creating window exhibitions. So the Downtown District started contacting potential business partners and funding a $150 stipend for each exhibitor. PS1 put out a call for artists, and is curating the exhibits.
“It came together pretty quickly,” said Engelbrecht, 43, of Iowa City. “Our intent was not to overthink this too much, because we’re seeing it as a little bit of an experiment.”
They received 10 or 12 responses in the first three or four days from artists, who were asked to describe their work and reaction to the idea of bringing their art to unconventional spaces. Their response? “The more unconventional the better,” Engelbrecht reported.
“I’m just so pleased to participate,” Ray, 68, a retired architect whose first job was in Iowa City, told The Gazette.
“I love Iowa City,” she said. “I think it’s the only city in Iowa that’s wonderful, because of its cultural nature … I had my first child there, and built my first house, got married there. My heart is always in Iowa City, so I come often.”
During her career, she practiced art on the side, calling it “my gift to myself.” Noting that she was just the second female architect registered in Iowa, she said she often was pressured “to act more male,” until the day she gave herself “permission to be feminine.” As such, she celebrates female power and femininity in her art.
Her Iowa City installation, titled “Spring,” blends her love of portraiture and work that is graphic, colorful and layered. She chose female faces, and rather than painting them in various skin tones, she said she opted to let them be generic female.
“I think what my work communicates, other than the urban archaeology aspect, is a joy,” she said, “and then what you experience and read into it, that’s yours. I’m just projecting a light message.”
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