BELLE PLAINE — Downtown Belle Plaine is alive with the sound of music.
The Benton County community recently dedicated the Larry Schlue Memorial Sound Park, a public art installation on Main Street in Belle Plaine.
“We’re thrilled because the project was a several-year long project,” said Jessica Rilling, executive director of Iowa Valley Resource Conservation & Development.
Iowa is home to a dozen state scenic byways and two national byways. Each of the state’s scenic byways has a coordinator and Rilling is the coordinator for the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway, which runs through Belle Plaine. In 2015, the coordinator for one of Iowa’s northeast scenic byways pursued an Our Town grant through the National Endowment for the Arts, Rilling said.
The proposal was to help rural communities in Iowa that were along these scenic byways to install unique public arts installations. The grant was awarded and Belle Plaine was one of 16 communities that participated in the program, Rilling said.
Through the grant, Belle Plaine was given $4,500, which covered Rilling’s efforts as project manager for the effort. However, in working with Belle Plaine Community Development Corporation, Benton Development Group and the city of Belle Plaine, Rilling and others were able to turn that initial $4,500 into $100,000 for the project through donations and other grant opportunities.
“There was just a lot of excitement and support,” she said.
Downtown Belle Plaine went through a revitalization project several years ago that had people interested in pursing public arts opportunities. When this opportunity presented itself, an ad hoc art committee was formed to select an artist. The committee received a dozen proposals.
“All of the artists had to speak to the theme of transportation,” Rilling said. “Stakeholders in Belle Plaine said that’s our theme.”
More than 70 trains pass through downtown Belle Plaine every day, Rilling said.
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The committee ultimately selected artist John Schlue, a Belle Plaine native who resides in Los Angeles. His design was about “sound as art” and features four large monoliths, whisper dishes and instruments in the middle of the park that can be played, Rilling said.
“Sound and art are things that bring us together,” Schlue said in a statement. “As a child, the sounds of trains had an impact on me. I was inspired to design a park that honors Belle Plaine’s history at the same time it invites people of all ages to interact with art.”
That call for engagement is what drew the committee to Schlue’s design, Rilling said.
“It drew people into the space,” she said. “The hope is that this is not just a destination for people to come and experience, but encourage people to come down and support local businesses.”
Rilling said John Schlue’s father, Larry Schlue, died during the course of the project. Larry Schlue was very involved in the committee and instilled a sense of giving back to the community in his son. It was only fitting then that the park be named for him.
“He gave back in a lot of ways,” Rilling said. “John and the project stakeholders were very happy that we could — in a small way — honor his dedication to the community of Belle Plaine.”
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