Guest Columnists

Iowa City has many options other than 'The Lens'

Iowa City City Council member at large, Bob Elliott, Photographed Wednesday, Jan. 2006.
Iowa City City Council member at large, Bob Elliott, Photographed Wednesday, Jan. 2006.
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I’ve sometimes disagreed publicly with decisions made by Iowa City’s City Council. This past Tuesday night wasn’t one of those times.

In front of a standing-room-only crowd last week, the council voted down, 5-2, a key financial component for “The Lens,” a controversial 30-foot tall stone sculpture proposed for a public art project at Black Hawk Mini Park in Iowa City’s downtown pedestrian mall.

Perhaps I’m displaying my lack of art appreciation, but I have several thorny thoughts about that massive art piece designed by London-based Sri Lankan-British artist and architect, Cecil Balmond. I have three concerns about the proposed massive sculpture. They are (1) the appearance, (2) the cost, and (3) the artist.

They tell me it was Plato who first said, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.” But when I see drawings of “The Lens” being proposed as that signature art piece, I see something closer to an eyesore than eye candy. I see an awkwardly balanced huge round saucer ready to fall over and crush someone.

According to The Gazette news report, the city council voted 5-2 against allocating $50,000 to hire a fundraiser to secure more than $500,000 in contributions for constructing “The Lens,” and another $50,000 for long-term maintenance.

It’s probably accurate to describe Cecil Balmond as renowned and creative. But do we have to go abroad to find a creative artist? Is there no one from our state universities, our state or anywhere else in the United States of America creative enough for our pedestrian mall project?

The mini park site on the pedestrian mall is intended to be filled with real people, so how about something more real and more cost realistic that would appeal to both pedestrian and artistic tastes. Perhaps something like a sculpture or set of murals honoring real local people for their contributions to our local community. For instance … ...

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Science? Prof. James Van Allen (1914-2006), a Mount Pleasant native who became the University of Iowa’s world-famous space scientist, with the Van Allen radiation belt named for him.

Sports? Nile Kinnick (1918-1943), an Adel native who is Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy winner. He died in the military defending our nation during World War II? Maybe include lines from his eloquent acceptance speech at the 1939 Heisman Trophy Award ceremony in New York City.

Art? Grant Wood (1891-1942), a rural Anamosa native was an artist famous for iconic 20th century paintings, such as “American Gothic.” Or Meredith Willson (1902-1984), a Mason City native who gained fame as composer, musician, and playwright. He was famous for music ranging from Broadway musical, “The Music Man,” to the Hawkeyes’ beloved “Iowa Fight Song.”

Politics? Minnette Doderer (1923-2005), born in rural Minnesota, was the first woman from Johnson County elected to Iowa’s state legislature, serving 4 years in the House of Representatives and 9 years in the Senate. She was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1979.

Community history? Irving Weber (1900-1997), an Iowa City native who was an athlete, businessman, and historian. He was the University of Iowa’s first athlete to make the all-American Swim Team, and later was a prolific writer of local history.

Diversity? Fred Penny (1910-1994), moved to Iowa from Illinois and became an early local civil rights leader, largely responsible for saving Iowa City’s historic A.M.E. Church.

Education? E.F. Lindquist (1901-1978), a native of Gowrie, was a University of Iowa professor who headed development of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and Iowa Tests of Educational Development. He founded Measurement Research Center (now Pearson) in 1953, and with Ted McCarrel, co-founded American College Testing (ACT) in 1959.

• Bob Elliott is a 50-year resident of Iowa City. Comments: elliottb57@gmail.com

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