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Downtown Iowa City unveils new winter light art installations in the Ped Mall
See giant bunnies, a new permanent light canopy and more in a new winter embrace
IOWA CITY — The public art scene is hopping in downtown Iowa City as a few rabbits make an unseasonably early appearance.
Well before Easter, six giant inflatable rabbits are nuzzling around on the streets, making a monthlong appearance in conjunction with other temporary and permanent light displays that are part of a multifaceted experience.
Around various corners of the Ped Mall, visitors and residents will find bunnies ranging from 11 to 23 feet tall: Buster, Charlie, Hippie T. Hop, Helen, Watt-son and Bertha. In Iowa City, the hares are making their only appearance in the United States this year from Down Under.
“My artwork, Intrude, is like any good fairy tale — it works from both the light and the dark,” said internationally renowned Australian artist Amanda Parer, creator of the inflatable cottontails. “In Australia, the rabbit simultaneously represents a cute, cuddly character from our childhood and is an animal known to impose great destruction of the island continent’s delicate ecosystems."
She hopes the motifs will prompt viewers to explore and examine their relationship with the natural world. At the intersection of whimsy and introspection, the inflatable rabbits may serve as an elephant in the room.
“They’re sweet animals with a serious environmental message … on our impact on the world,” said Nancy Bird, executive director of the Iowa City Downtown District (ICDD). “But in it’s heart, it’s fun.”
That sense of wonder is at the heart of what the district is trying to do to brighten dreary winter days in February, which is historically a slower month for businesses and activities in the area.
If you go:
What: Cold weather dance parties with silent disco headphones.
Where: The Weatherdance Fountain Stage in the Pedestrian Mall: 210 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City
When: 6 to 9 p.m. every Friday of February 2023.
Details: Dance to the backdrop of several temporary and permanent winter light installations this winter at this free event.
In addition to the bunnies, the district will be featuring Ali Hval’s 3D Doodle Trees, installed in December, the downtown’s annual Singing Trees, and a new permanent 120-foot alley light canopy. The installations will serve as a backdrop to events planned this month to encourage more activity and engagement in the downtown area.
“Focusing on light-based multifaceted art installations opens up a very accessible experience to the entire community and our visitors,” said Betsy Potter, director of creative services for the ICDD. “It is something to be enjoyed at any time of the day at your own pace for the entire month.”
Singing Trees activated along the Dubuque Street corridor of the Ped Mall focus on six trees that interact the sounds and music, while Doodle Trees add another eclectic layer to the self-guided experience.
In partnership with the University of Iowa and Neumann Monson, a new 120-foot canopy will be draped over one of the signature alleys in the heart of downtown as a permanent but adaptable fixture. Like the Singing Trees, it can be activated by sound to react to interact with those nearby and set the stage for impromptu events and activities in any season.
“The role of the ICDD is to set the stage for great cultural, economic vibrancy ...,” said Bird. “(W) think these lights set the stage for organic adventures.”
In a similar vein the other interactive art installations like The Loop and Mi Casa, she hopes this month’s lights will encourage people to come out en mass in the heart of winter with something less fleeting than single-day events.
This month, cold weather dance parties with silent disco headphones for dancers will be held at the Weatherdance Fountain stage from 6 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 3, 10, 17 and 24.
But the ICDD also brings installations like this with an eye for long-term improvements that build a sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship between downtown, its residents and visitors. Installations like these combine practical lighting improvements with less tangible ideals that have a big impact on the district’s bottom line.
“The experience of enjoyment and fun and being together — those are really great feelings. When you’re downtown, we hope to help support and evoke that feeling,” Bird said. “How people feel impacts everything they do. Keeping people feeling good and remind people this is a community that cares about them — that’s really great for downtown Iowa City.”
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