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Iowa City Downtown District installs new interactive public art on Ped Mall
Swings will support affordable housing initiatives in Johnson County
IOWA CITY — Downtown Iowa City’s newest interactive art exhibit is encouraging the public to swing for the houses.
The new set of 16 red swings on the Ped Mall, titled Mi Casa Your Casa 2.0, will serve as a conversation starter and fundraiser about the need for affordable housing in Johnson County.
Visitors to the house-shaped swings can donate to the cause at no cost to themselves. While the exhibit is up from June 10 to July 10, the Iowa City Downtown District will donate $1 to the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition for every selfie on the swings posted to social media — simply tag @downtowniowacity along with hashtags #downtowniowacity and #micasayourcasaic.
A QR code will be available for visitors wanting to donate more to the cause.
If you go
Where: Black Hawk Mini Park (Ped Mall) in downtown Iowa City, 104 S. Dubuque St.
When: The interactive art installation will be available to the public June 10 to July 10.
Details: For every selfie on the swings posted to social media tagging @downtowniowacity with hashtags #downtowniowacity and #micasayourcasaic, $1 will be donated to the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition. Each dollar will be matched by the Community Foundation of Johnson County, making it possible for swingers to raise up to $5,000.
Though the Iowa City Downtown District brings new interactive art exhibits to the Ped Mall every summer, this year’s interactive exhibit, sponsored by the Community Foundation of Johnson County, is unlike others in the past. Past initiatives have not offered built-in fundraising opportunities.
The Community Foundation of Johnson County will match every dollar donated up to $2,500, meaning each selfie has the potential to donate $2 to affordable housing, up to $5,000 total.
“We believe housing is a human right,” said Shelly Maharry, executive director of the Community Foundation of Johnson County. “If we can use this beautiful piece of art in that way, we’re happy to start that conversation.”
One of the biggest challenges the foundation is confronting is the need for affordable housing. Maharry said Johnson County remains the most expensive county in Iowa to live. A working single parent, for example, needs to make $19.92 per hour in a standard 40-hour workweek in order to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment priced at $1,100 per month.
Someone making minimum wage would need to work 110 hours per week to afford that. In Johnson County, 61 percent of renters are considered cost burdened — spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
“We know it’s a pervasive problem,” Maharry said. “We want residents to live and work here without commuting long distances to afford to work here.”
Mi Casa’s red frames, an exhibit that has toured cities across the world, were inspired by the mercados of Latin America — lively street markets where human connections are made every day. With three-dimensional frames, the art is meant to illustrate warmth, comfort, and safety in homes with a basic shape instantly recognizable to all.
When a two-person swing is empty, a ring of lights lining the bottom glows dimly as it awaits its next visitor. Once someone steps inside, the lights glow more powerfully to indicate someone is home.
“It will look differently depending on how many people are ‘home,’ ” said Betsy Potter, creative director of the Iowa City Downtown District.
“ ‘Mi Casa, Your Casa’ is a strong and subtle symbol in a geometric shape that will allow us to build a unique iconic piece, one that creates a continuous dialogue with audiences and capable of continuous changes and mutations,” said creators Hector Esrawe and Ignacio Cadena in a statement.
With inspiration from history, art, music, architecture, books and everyday activities, the goal of the design is to “weave and generate interactions, human connections and emotions, to relate to users and to enhance and translate our inheritance and skills into new expressions,” they said.
With something basic that virtually everyone can enjoy, the new art exhibit is much simpler than last year’s Loop, which gave visitors the chance to project dreamlike images over them by teetering back and forth. But this year, that simplicity is part of the point by bringing all generations together.
“With every installation, you’re supposed to have fun, and swinging is one of the activities that people old and young love to do,” Potter said. “We’re adjacent to the University of Iowa, but we’re home to 2,000 residents, young and old. Anything we do, we’re trying to make it approachable for all age groups.”
This year’s project stood out to Potter for its ease of engagement, ease of getting in and out of, and ability to be enjoyed equally any time of day since the exhibit is not as heavily reliant on lighting elements. The exhibit comes from Creos, the same Canadian public art agency that gave Iowa City The Loop last year.
More people will be able to use the exhibit at the same time with 16 units, more than the 12 that were available in last year’s exhibit.
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