116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Don Gallagher is on a mission.
In May, he read about the idea of wrapping a revamped U.S. Cellular Center in crimped steel cladding. And like a lot of folks around here, he was not a fan of making the joint look sort of like a crushed beer can.
But unlike most folks, Gallagher, a retired Rockwell Collins engineer, got motivated and went to work. He started looking around online and found big public murals, lots of them, in lots of places. Many of those murals transformed enormous, flat, boring spaces, much like that big arena wall facing Interstate 380, into impressive, signature works of art.
Gallagher was most taken with a massive 32,500-square-foot mural in Omaha called “Fertile Ground,” dedicated in June 2009. During a 10-month planning process, the artist, Meg Saligman, interviewed and photographed dozens of Omahans and incorporated their faces and ideas into the mural. The result is a remarkable symbol of the community's history and renewed vibrancy.
It's much larger than what it would take to cover the arena wall. But it cost only $400,000, less than half of the estimated $1.1 million price tag for steel cladding. The Omaha mural was sprayed with a coating designed to preserve it for 30 years.
Now, Gallagher is meeting with whoever will listen, city officials, hack columnists, etc., trying to get support for his idea. He called me last week and stopped by Monday morning. I was skeptical, but Gallagher's enthusiasm is contagious.
“I'm going to make this happen,” he said as he unpacked photos, CDs and a laptop computer. Wayne Anderson of WGAMedia made some photos for Gallagher showing what the arena wall would look like decked out in full mural. There's definitely potential there.
“I'm so excited about this. My wife's going to throw me out,” Gallagher quipped of his quest.
Before he stopped by the paper, Gallagher met with City Manager Jeff Pomeranz and City Council member Chuck Swore. “I liked the idea,” said Pomeranz, commending Gallagher for his research. “We're going to take his idea seriously.”
I think what strikes me as most promising about the idea is the potential for citizen cooperation and involvement. This city seems pretty divided up right now over lots of issues. Those disputes aren't going away, but we, at least, might be able to call time out, come together and help shape something truly positive. Of course, it could also become one more sad spectacle of stubborn discord, but let's stay optimistic for now.
So I'm with Gallagher. That's a big canvass that could tell a big story about this city. I bet we can think of a meaningful way to fill it.
Below is a two-part video about the Omaha mural project: