Iowa City Downtown District starting summer mural project

Five walls to be painted this year

Director of Public Art at Iowa City Downtown District Thomas Agran shows a postcard mural painted on the wall of the Iow
Director of Public Art at Iowa City Downtown District Thomas Agran shows a postcard mural painted on the wall of the Iowa City Public Library in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, July 20 2017. The mural is painted on the corner of the building at the start of an alley. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Downtown visitors funneled through downtown alleyways thanks to Pedestrian Mall construction this summer might stumble on some new art.

The Iowa City Downtown District selected five artists, including Iowa City artists Nick Meister and Marina Ross, out of 207 applications to each create a mural on a downtown wall. Thomas Agran, director of public art for the district, said four of the murals should be completed in June while the final one will debut in September.

Murals can provide a number of benefits to a community, such as making it more visually interesting or memorable, Agran said. Agran himself is responsible for the downtown Iowa City “postcard” mural, which he created in May 2017, before taking his new position at the district.

“It can be a voice to people who feel like they don’t have a voice downtown. It could be political,” said Agran, who facilitates the program and won’t paint any murals of his own. “It could also just be something that makes someone’s walk to work more of an enjoyable experience.”

In recent years, the district has undergone an effort to make its alleyways cleaner, safer and more inviting by turning them from “liabilities into assets.” Agran said the mural program fits into that larger initiative but also helps fill the void of the BenchMarks program, which has artists to repaint Ped Mall benches each year, during Ped Mall construction.

Construction began last week on an effort to replace underground utilities and improve the streetscape of the Ped Mall.

This year’s work includes the Dubuque Street section as well as Black Hawk Mini Park and the Dubuque and College streets intersection. Next year, crews will work on the College Street portion.


Walls in the alleyways of 229 E. Washington St., 118 E. College St., 204 E. Washington St., 220 E. Washington St. and 118 S. Dubuque St. were selected as the project sites. Agran said these walls were chosen because of their location or because they were messy and could benefit from a unifying mural overtop.

As for the artists, Agran said the selection committee, made up of local artists and art professionals, was looking to choose a variety of projects, applications that best met the needs of the property owners and artists who had some experience or credibility.

As for the future of the mural project beyond this year, Agran said there are no specifics.

“I would say that the possibility to continue it is there,” Agran said. “We don’t have a concrete plan there but it might broaden a little bit, maybe not just paint-on-walls in that sense.”

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