Government

Artists wanted for Harris Building installation

Linn County Public Art Commission looking for works showing Harrises' legacy, Oak Hill Jackson neighborhood

Sarah Harris, surrounded by family and local leaders, cuts the ribbon during the Nov. 22 opening of the new Dr. Percy an
Sarah Harris, surrounded by family and local leaders, cuts the ribbon during the Nov. 22 opening of the new Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Building in Cedar Rapids. The Linn County Public Art Commission is now seeking ideas for two public art pieces inside and outside the building at 1020 Sixth St. SE. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Artists will soon have the opportunity to submit ideas for artwork for the new Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Building.

The Linn County Public Art Commission is searching for artwork for the building, named in recognition of civil rights leaders Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris.

“I have no idea what the submissions will be for the Harris Building, but I look forward to it,” said Linda Langston, member of the public art commission and former Linn County supervisor, who was integral to establishing the commission in 2010.

Eight public art pieces have been installed since then.

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, now Orchestra Iowa.

County supervisors can designate up to 1 percent of a capital project’s costs toward public art. The $31.1 million Harris building, at 1020 Sixth St. SE, opened in November and houses Linn County Public Health and Child & Youth Development Services.

The Linn County Public Art Commission is looking for artists to create one outdoor piece and one indoor piece for the building.

The outdoor piece will be installed between the playground and the parking lot in a 15-by-20-foot space.

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The indoor piece, which will be in the lobby of the Harris Building, could be two- or three-dimensional.

“It could be a mosaic, ceramic, a painting, any number of things. We’re really open to seeing what artists come up with,” said Sean Ulmer, director of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and a commission board member.

A call for artists will be posted this month on CAFE, a website where artists can submit their work for consideration. An art selection committee, made up of community members and a Harris family member, will select the two projects.

Langston expects the pieces to be installed by the end of the year, although installing the outdoor piece may have to be delayed until the spring of 2021, depending on the weather.

Up to 200 artists from anywhere in the world can submit a sample of their artwork to be considered.

Langston said artists, when submitting work, should consider the Harrises’ role in the community and the history of the Oak Hill Jackson neighborhood, where the Harris Building is located.

“We recognize, in some cases, this art has the opportunity to have historical reference,” she said.

Langston said when the commission was established a decade ago, members met with local artists to ask them if they were interested in a “leg up,” with preference given to local artists.

“The consistent response we heard was ‘no,’ ” Langston said. “They wanted to be able to compete with any other artists who submitted work.”

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Ulmer said if a local artist is awarded the commission, “it is absolutely all the more meaningful” they were selected from an international pool.

“At the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We want the best work of art for that place and site that our budget will allow,” Ulmer said.

The building will have a picture of Dr. Harris and his wife at the entrance, with a picture of the Harrises with their 12 children on the second floor.

“It’s a way to very significantly say to the neighborhood that this is the Harris Building,” Langston said.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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