116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A mosaic that Cedar Rapids residents helped create, and that evokes the legacy of a pioneering Black couple in Cedar Rapids, is being installed this week in the lobby of the Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Building.
Greta McLain, Kendra Kallevig and Jacqui Rosenbush of GoodSpace Murals, in collaboration with members of the community, created the public art piece for the building that houses Linn County Public Health and Child & Youth Development Services at 1020 Sixth St. SE.
The building, which opened in late 2019, honors Percy Harris — the first Black physician in Cedar Rapids who served as the Linn County medical examiner for almost 40 years — and Lileah Harris, a lifelong learning and education advocate, a member of the Human Rights Commission and a board member of the Cedar Rapids Symphony Guild, now Orchestra Iowa.
On July 30 and 31, Cedar Rapids residents were invited to create mosaic pieces that would be incorporated into the final piece now being installed in the building.
“I think that there’s something so beautiful in the mosaic, in representing the community,” McLain said. “You need every single piece in order to make that bigger picture, that bigger vision. Everybody is invited, everybody is vital to the definition to what is the Cedar Rapids community. If you live here you are a part of this, you are counted. And I think a mosaic visually represents that idea.”
Themes of community, unity, equity and service are represented throughout the mural in honor of the Harrises.
“Dr. Percy Harris and his wife, Lileah, were huge in seeding that social justice, racial justice, through relationships here in Cedar Rapids,” McLain said. “We really wanted to make an image that felt like it held that same energy.”
Community was an important element for the artists to implement. As part of its mission statement, GoodSpace Murals, of Minneapolis, thrives in promoting and sharing community stories.
“It’s really a beautiful tension between being the outside eye and the inside eye,” McLain said. “As community artists, our honor is being able to go into places and say, ‘Hey, we’re really good at producing these projects, we’re really good at getting a lot of hands in the mix, but we can’t tell your story. What do you want us to know?’”
The Harris Building replaced the former offices of the Public Health Department and Child and Youth Development Services that were damaged in the historic 2008 flood. Up to 1 percent of the budget for the public building could be devoted to pieces of art.
“The overall budget for this building allowed for two public art pieces based on the amount,” said Sean Ulmer, executive art director at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and chair on the Linn County Public Art Commission. “One would be indoors and one would be outdoors. There is a Linn County Public Art Commission; it’s made up of various community members and the supervisors, and we decided as a group there would be two pieces and where those pieces would be.”
The mural crafted by GoodSpace serves as the internal exhibit, while a sculpture that doubles as a bench crafted by Madeline Wiener will be the external piece.
Artists go through a multiple-round selection process before submitting a proposal to be considered to create the mural. GoodSpace Murals was one out of 198 applicants for the Harris Building lobby space.
“We are so thrilled to be here,” McLain said. “Every time we come into a community we feel so humbled that we have been chosen. Thank you Cedar Rapids.”
While paint and other mediums have the potential for touch-ups and re-do’s, mosaic provides the piece with longevity. GoodSpace Murals used grout and mosaic tiles.
“When I watched the community come together to make various leaves and butterflies out of mosaic, there was a real excitement on the part of the people who were participating,” Ulmer said. “Partly because they knew that their piece would be a part of this mural forever and how parents who brought children, those children will grow up in this community and be able to go to the Harris Building and see something that they worked on for the rest of their lives. And they can bring their children. It’s a way of sort of passing it on and having this long-term connection. Not just the building, but the community as a whole.”
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