Iowa Arts Council
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Iowa Arts Council

Arts & Culture in Community Development

“Wings of Life,” a mural in Dubuque. (Photo: Bob Felderman Photography)

When Springboard for the Arts launched more than three decades ago, it was still fairly unusual to invite artists to help with city planning and to enlist their creativity to help communities grow.

Today, the St. Paul-based organization delivers training nationwide to help artists and communities do exactly that.

Iowans can hear directly from Springboard for the Arts, as well as community leaders from across Iowa, during the Iowa Arts Summit, a three-day program offered by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. It kicks off online Aug. 10–11 and culminates with an in-person conference Aug. 12 at Mainframe Studios in Des Moines.

The summit comes as more Iowa communities are recognizing the value of placing artists and the arts at the center of conversations about their future. This year’s summit will highlight projects across the state, including Mason City and Maquoketa, where leaders have sought out artists to enliven their downtowns, and Oskaloosa, which plans to launch a new creative studio space and expand an artist-in-residence program.

Influences of Prairie School architecture in Mason City. (Photo: Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs)

This year’s summit venue, Mainframe Studios, bills itself as the nation’s largest artist workspace and offers affordable studios for nearly 180 artists. Many of the artists engage in community development efforts across Des Moines, where leaders launched one of Iowa’s first municipal artist-in-residence programs last year.

“What people are beginning to understand is how much the arts are an economic driver,” said Bob Kling, a former Indianola city councilman. “That’s what draws people, and there are so many cities across the state now who are using art to draw people to their communities.”

Kling, an artist and educator who serves on the Indianola Public Arts Commission, pointed to the makeover of Indianola’s downtown square as an example of creative placemaking. While the project has replaced aging stormwater pipes and sewer lines, it’s also bringing a new dimension to the heart of the community. Gateway arches, planters, greenery and new brick pavers beckon residents and visitors to enjoy cultural and arts activities in an aesthetically pleasing environment, while providing paid work opportunities for artists.

In Dubuque, Jenni Petersen-Brant can barely contain her enthusiasm for the arts-related projects in her community — and gratitude for the artists who are leading the charge.

“Artists are kind of looked at as just being in their studios, doing work just about themselves,” said Petersen-Brant, the city of Dubuque’s arts and cultural affairs coordinator. “But in the past 10 years, I’ve seen a lot of interest from artists who want to work in social engagement projects.”

She said the city’s mural program has grown during the past few years, supported primarily by stand-alone organizations and funders. The program accelerated when local artist Shelby Fry stepped up to design the “Solidarity Mural,” which stretches more than 100 feet across Dubuque’s Five Flags Civic Center and represents communities of color, abilities and identities. More than 70 volunteers showed up for six days to paint it, and businesses and nonprofit groups pitched in, too, donating paint, meals and even Gatorade.

Detail of “Solidarity” in Dubuque. (Photo: Bob Felderman Photography)
“Solidarity” in Dubuque. (Photo: Bob Felderman Photography)

“I truly think that people want to live in a place where they can have a say and make a difference,” Petersen-Brant said. “So I think doing artist-based community projects gives people a chance to express themselves and tell their stories. It helps people feel welcomed and valued. Don’t we all want to live in a place where we feel valued?”

Jeff Morgan, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

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Iowa Culture

Iowa Culture

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs empowers Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to resources. iowaculture.gov