CEDAR RAPIDS — A Colorado sculptor and a Minnesota muralist were picked Monday to create art for the county’s new public health building honoring a trailblazing local Black family.
The Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Building, at 1020 Sixth St. SE., will see two art installations — an exterior piece adjacent to the playground, and an interior piece in the main stairwell area.
Sean Ulmer, chair of the Linn County Public Art Commission and executive director of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. said the commission received 184 artist submissions for the exterior piece and 198 for the interior piece. The commission recommended the finalists and the Linn County Board of Supervisors approved them Monday.
“We’ve been working on this for quite some time now,” Ulmer told The Gazette. “Which has been challenging with COVID-19 to move the process forward, but we got it done so now the artists are off, working on these pieces. We’re excited to have these works completed and installed.”
Artist Madeline Wiener was selected for the exterior piece. Wiener is a sculptor from Colorado who works with large pieces of limestone and turns them into figures.
For the Harris Building installation, she will be sculpting a mother and child as well as another child looking at the first two figures.
Being adjacent to the playground, these sculptures are meant to be touched, sat on and interacted with.
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Greta McLain, a muralist from Minneapolis, was selected for the interior piece. Ulmer said McLain is big on including community involvement in her art. According to Ulmer, she plans to come with her team to Cedar Rapids multiple times to interact with and get feedback from the community.
“She very much believes in community collaboration,” Ulmer said. “There will be opportunities in the fall for the public to interact with her team.”
Supervisors can designate up to 1 percent of a capital project’s costs toward public art. The $31.1 million Harris Building, which opened last November and houses Linn County Public Health and Child & Youth Development Services, is named for Percy and Lileah Harris.
Percy Harris was the first Black physician in Cedar Rapids and served as the Linn County medical examiner for almost 40 years. Lileah Harris was a lifelong learning and education advocate, a member of the Human Rights Commission and a board member of the Cedar Rapids Symphony Guild.
Ulmer said the exterior sculpture will cost $145,000 in total, which includes prepping the site and meeting equipment needs for moving large pieces of limestone.
The cost of the interior work will be $50,000 in total, which includes creating and shipping the artwork, Ulmer said.
Ulmer said the mural is planned to be installed during the first week of December. With the extra challenges of installing the exterior sculpture, including sourcing of raw limestone, Ulmer said the exterior piece could be installed as soon as late November or early December but more likely in spring 2021.
During Monday’s meeting, Supervisor Stacey Walker said he believes these installations will be meaningful for the community.
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“I want to thank the entire art commission for their work on this,” he said. “I thought it was incredibly special to have a member of the Harris family participate.”
The review committee, made up of community members including a Harris family member, put out a call for artists earlier this year.
Ulmer said the process of choosing the two artists started with going through hundreds of artists’ work samples they submitted to the committee. Artists from anywhere in the world could submit work.
Once the committee narrowed it down to the top three for each project, each artist had to submit a full proposal.
“Both of the chosen artists were standouts and it makes perfect sense for the Harris Building,” Ulmer said.