Earlier this summer, a debate emerged over the future of some art and monuments at the Iowa Statehouse. Activists rightly pointed out that some works, such as “The Pioneer Statuary Group” in front of the Capitol and the giant “Westward” painting inside are examples of whitewashed history, glorifying white settlement while ignoring the fate of displaced Indigenous people.
So thoughtful people will need to sit down and figure out what happens next, whether works are removed, expanded historic context is added or some other solution. It needs to happen.
But this saga involving history got me to thinking another way to educate Iowans would be to erect some art and monuments reflecting Iowa as it is now.
Thoughtful people will shake their heads. For others, enjoy.
The Cornossus of Hog
An 80-foot tall stainless steel hog would guard the approach to the Statehouse, taking its rightful place as the most powerful political force in the state. Tree-huggers, clean water advocates and other environmental do-gooders would tremble in its gleaming presence. Each time the Legislature passes a bill doing the bidding of big ag, the Cornossus would make an ideal bill-signing backdrop, squealing in triumph. A canal would lead from the rear of the Cornossus to a mighty stand of steel corn. What’s that smell? It’s the smell of money, and campaign donations.
A sweeping 40-foot mural depicting how a bill really becomes a law in Iowa. There are high-dollar fundraisers, private meetings with donors, hidden huddles with interest groups, marching orders from national think tanks and receptions thrown by lobbying groups with free shrimp so realistic you’ll be looking for the cocktail sauce. Details are dramatically hammered out behind closed doors by top lawmakers, amendments spring from nowhere as if by magic. And for one, fleeting moment, sunshine shows the public what’s actually happening, right before debate is snuffed out and the legislation is shoved to passage. As art, it’s stirring. As government, it’s nauseating.
Tomb of the Unknown Study
Each year, lawmakers who can’t come to an agreement on an issue, or who want to bury an issue, appoint an interim committee to study it between sessions. This monument would list all of the committees that disappeared without any legislative action on their recommendations, their names carved on stone tablets lest we forget. Tax reform studies. Education reform studies. The Program Elimination Commission, which couldn’t bring itself to eliminate a program. So many gave up summer and fall days to meet, with so little progress. But hey, they got reimbursed for mileage.
Great Wall of Climate
Imposing stone sandbags emblazoned with the names of Iowa communities flooded during the past 30 years form a wall impregnable not only to rushing runoff feeding floodwaters but also science. A plaque nearby carries the immortal climate wisdom of former Gov. Terry Branstad, told to The Gazette years ago. “So, you know we had an ice age not all that long ago in this country,” he said. And it seems like it will be another very cold day before any leaders from our state do anything meaningful about the climate crisis.
The Eternal Corn Dog
A beacon keeping the spirit of the Iowa State Fair alive all year long. The 50-foot tall fully illuminated corn dog is guarded by bronze statues of the Butter Cow, the Big Boar and some guy wearing a lot of spandex who really, really shouldn’t. On East Side Night at the fair, the corn dog flashes and shines a light skyward, letting all east-siders know it’s time to party.
Portraying a corporate jet soaring skyward, this aircraft-grade aluminum sculpture commemorates all of the generous Iowans who loaned jets to Iowa politicians as in-kind campaign contributions. Where is the jet headed? To a bowl game? To a Texas fundraiser? You’re only limited by your imagination, but not Iowa campaign finance laws.
In each legislative session, high school kids hustle around the Statehouse running errands for lawmakers. Once upon a time, they put together packing boxes near the end of the session and piled them in impressive displays, a sure sign that, thank God, lawmakers were about to adjourn. Overly cautious nattering nannies nixed the box-stacking. But the stacked boxes of the Page Monument will forever honor the tradition. Placed just outside the Capitol, the monument also will serve as a constant reminder to lawmakers. Pack up and go home before you make things worse.
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