- Associated Press - Saturday, March 22, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Jordan Weber doesn’t call himself a street artist anymore. The term’s overused. Overrated. Over-commodified, he says.

Instead, he calls himself an artist and an activist, one who creates statements of intrigue on found canvases. Sometimes the canvases are buildings. And sometimes he doesn’t have permission.

“You’re in a state of complete awareness. You have to be,” said Weber, recalling 4 a.m. moments in years past when he painted or plastered art covertly around Des Moines.

Recently, though, Weber began dreaming up outdoor art he can do in daylight, The Des Moines Register reported (https://dmreg.co/1gVTe3B ). The 29-year-old is plotting a series of art installations that aim to turn abandoned buildings and lots in the urban core of Des Moines, where Weber grew up, into community green spaces.

The first such project, an environmental art and garden concept plotted for River Bend, is in its early planning stages, he said.

“There’s a direct line to health in the inner city and disconnection from nature,” said Weber. He hopes his ideas for art spaces can become realities, ones that give urban residents a nearby place to reflect on nature and creativity.

Four months ago, in the dead of winter, Weber began painting Louis Vuitton logos on a boarded-up house at 15th Street and University Avenue.

Within about four minutes, the building’s owner pulled up beside him.

“He was like, ‘What are you doing here?’ ” Weber said. “Because there’s a history with people chilling and doing whatever kind of drug in that house.”

Turns out the guy was a friend of Weber’s uncle, he said, so he explained the idea behind the project. Part of the idea, he said, is to bring down the much-idolized French fashion house from haughty heights of materialism to the less luxe streets of Des Moines.

“He was all for it,” Weber said.

Last week, a photo Weber took of the Louis Vuitton house ended up on the Facebook page of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan as an example of “illegal dumping, graffiti, dilapidation and other forms of blight” that residents should report.

“Wrong city Mayor Quan!” Weber commented under the post. An apology later came, apparently from Quan’s assistant. Weber offered his blight-to-art services in return, and said more such projects would be on the way.

“There will be more attempts to shock my generation … hopefully resulting in action away from material possessions,” he wrote under the post.

T.J. Moberg owns Moberg gallery, where Weber’s sellable paintings are sold. Weber makes a living off his work, but Moberg said he’s far from focused on the profits.

“There’s obviously some things Jordan does that he’s not trying make money on. He’s painting up a crack house to look like Louis Vuitton,” Moberg said. “There’s something pure about that you don’t see much anymore.”

Weber’s envisioned project for the River Bend area wouldn’t be lucrative, either. He’s eyeing an Eighth Street lot for the installation, he said, which pairs an urban basketball court with pastoral longing.

Regulation basketball lines would be marked out, Weber said, but on a grass court. On both ends, basketball goals would be winding and bent like crazy straws, rendering them useless. In the center would be community gardens surrounding an earthen mound, atop which one could sit on a bench and reflect.

Weber hopes to pitch the idea next month in hopes of working with nearby groups like River Bend’s neighborhood association, the 6th Avenue Corridor, Inc. and Urban Dreams. He aims to cobble together grants to fund the project.

“What I think (Weber) understands is that the artwork needs to represent the neighborhood,” said Laura Peters, of the 6th Avenue Corridor group. She has worked with Weber in the past. “He wants the art to reflect the culture and diversity of the local area, which we very much appreciate.”

If the basketball garden materializes, it would further mark Weber’s increasing focus on art aimed to direct social difference.

The street art Weber emphasized in years past can feel passive, he said, like the time he pasted an image of a robot’s body with Bambi’s head on a corporation building downtown. The image was a comment on urbanization and the natural world, Weber said. But if it doesn’t spark a community to converse, what’s the point?

Weber spent his childhood around parents focused on creativity, activism and reshaping their communities. His mother, Kay, studied art at Drake and formerly directed the Evelyn K. Davis Center, he said.

His dad, Forest, worked with the NAACP and drove around Jesse Jackson when he visited Des Moines, Weber recalls. Once, when Weber was in fifth grade, he presented Jackson with a diorama the boy made of the activist’s life.

“It was really ugly looking, this suede green board,” Weber said. “I showed it to him and the dude kissed me on my forehead. The dude, like, blessed me. It was the weirdest s—- ever.”

Weird or not, that experience and others his parents raised him around stuck. So did the creative streak, even when Weber grew up to be a varsity basketball player at Hoover High School. Weber continued playing basketball while attending Simpson and Kirkwood colleges, he said, until a knee injury eventually convinced him to quit pursuing the sport and, with that, his schooling.

He returned to Des Moines, worked construction and dove back into community-focused art. He led youth art programs through groups like the Boys and Girls Clubs. He set up gallery shows of his own politically and environmentally charged work, the same sort of work he hopes to now bring into the community where he grew up.

“I grew up around the stuff I’m talking about,” Weber said. “It’s a pretty natural and organic transition.”

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