- Associated Press - Sunday, August 3, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - This summer, look up - you might see something beautiful.

Mural Project 2014 from the City of Iowa City Public Art Program is a new annual initiative to beautify city-owned walls with murals from three local artists, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported (https://icp-c.com/1o9zgKf ).

Marcia Bollinger, city public art coordinator, said the department has funded several murals, including a public-private partnership on the exterior wall of women’s clothing store Dulcinea and a piece at Wetherby Shelter in collaboration with the Tate High School art program.

“It’s something that livens up the space,” she said. “It’s fun to look at, create some color, add some color to it.”

Pieces under the College Street Bridge at the Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp, the west wall of the pump building adjacent to the Fairmeadows Park Splash Pad and the east wall of the old pool building at Mercer Park will pop up over the next month.

Bollinger said that in the past, the program has focused more on installing three-dimensional art, but the committee is looking to stretch its dollar as its budget dwindles.

Bollinger said that in previous years, the program was allocated $50,000 to $100,000, which funded city signatures such as the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk, Weatherdance Fountain and downtown statues. Muralists also were looking for available canvas around Iowa City to display their art, she said.

“Murals seemed like the obvious next choice,” Bollinger said.

Iowa City artist Brock Muench was commissioned to paint a mural with themes of gardening and the environment under the bridge to coincide with the Iowa City Farmers Market.

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities to make art for pay, which is nice, but also the public spaces, it’s nice to have them used up with something beautiful rather than some crappy graffiti was here before,” he said.

Muench said his mural, which depicts a gardener picking tomatoes, has a unique overhead perspective to illustrate “the interconnectedness and wholeness of everything as one.” The mural is Muench’s first large-scale project, he said, and he hopes the city program will “open some doors.”

“Who knows, maybe I’ll get more opportunities to continue putting up art around town,” he said.

In addition to city sponsorships, local businesses are taking to the streets to beautify their buildings.

Last fall, New Pioneer Co-op commissioned local artist Thomas Agran to paint an edible-themed mural on a wall of the Iowa City location.

Genie Maybanks, New Pioneer Co-op customer service coordinator, said she thought Agran’s “authentic and engaging” style went hand in hand with the business’s philosophy of neighborhood beautification and support of the local arts.

“We commissioned the mural because New Pioneer Food Co-op has always valued fresh, natural and local foods, and we felt a mural could serve as inspiration, and a daily reminder to look to the source - local farms and gardens - for healthful foods,” she said.

Agran said murals lend themselves to an “increased vitality for a space,” which he sees as part of a healthy urban environment.

“I think of them as just such a powerful act of community,” he said. “They are for everybody and regardless of who has commissioned them or whatever.”

Veronica Tessler, owner of Yotopia Frozen Yogurt, recently started a Crowdtilt campaign to crowdsource funds for a mural on the business inspired by Iowa’s “idyllic” landscape.”

Tessler said she is seeking to raise $4,250 to pay lead artist Megan Dehner and two assistants for the mural, which she sees as a “community project.”

“Beautifying the (pedestrian) mall is going to better all of our lives,” she said. “This is a really prominent location and entrance to the ped mall, and sprucing it up a bit will be to the benefit of everybody. We’re really thrilled to be hosting it on our wall, but we really see it as part of the community.”

Tessler said she thinks a mural would “illustrate the creativity of an already lively town.”

“I think that they really play on people’s imagination,” she said. “They add some livelihood to what might otherwise be a plain wall or an alley. I think they help bring the town to life.”

John Engelbrecht, Public Space One director and Public Art Advisory Committee member, said murals can be “the easy thing” for public art.

“But I think what they do is true, to a certain extent,” he said. “They have a history of giving people a voice to their space, in a certain way. They can make a place more vibrant. I think people want to see art. People want to see well-done murals.”

Although murals are an opportunity to beautify a space, they also serve as a deterrent to graffiti, an unsanctioned form of public art.

“I would like to see more visual culture, whether it’s sanctioned or not, in Iowa City,” Engelbrecht said.

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Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, https://www.press-citizen.com/

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