MARION — Today, sidewalk-closed signs, orange cones and earth movers.
But Marionites soon will see the long-promised artwork popping up in the city’s alleys along Seventh Avenue.
Art by four Iowa artists and five other artists elsewhere in the country is being created now and, if all goes according to plan, will be installed by the end of December.
The ImaginArt in the Alleys project began in 2014 when Marion secured a grant for $350,000 from ArtPlace America to spruce up its alleys along Seventh Avenue, one of the major arteries in the Uptown Marion area, between 10th and 11th streets.
The city invested $320,000 and received a donation of $75,000 from the Linn County Board of Supervisors as well as other private donations — including from the Hall-Perrine Cancer, Rockwell Collins and Farmers State Bank — have been secured for the project.
The alleys along Seventh Street and between 10th and 11th streets that run perpendicular to Seventh Street are under construction with electric lines and gas lines being buried and updated and electric poles cleared from the area.
Though the art and cleared clutter creates aesthetically pleasing space, the goal of the project is to make the area between businesses a destination for Marion residents and visitors. The city also wants business to continue to thrive in the shops lining Seventh Street as sections of the street undergo construction as part of the project to redevelop Marion’s central corridor.
“We wanted to make sure businesses had every chance of keeping customers coming to their door,” said Karen Hoyt, art director for the project. “It’s going to bring vitality and raise the value of their property.
“ArtPlace America is all about creating a sense of place and communities recognizing that the arts drive economic development. To capitalize on what makes your place unique is what works.”
Marion is the only city in the nation that received a grant from ArtPlace to revitalize city alleys, Hoyt said.
“Through this national grant, they believe in what we’re doing here,” Hoyt said. “It was a very tough competition to get this money. We know that we’re going places. I think we’re being regarded as a national experiment to see what we can do with underutilized spaces, We’re being watched, we know.”
Along with two gateway pieces that will mark entries of the alleys, there will be benches, a bike rack, sculptures, a stage perpendicular to the Iowa Reality Building on 10th Street and a mural featuring Iowa birds.
Cara Briggs Farmer, who relocated to Marion four years ago and started Synergy Metalworks, is creating a welded gateway with stained glass that rises from two planter boxes. Farmer was approached by Hoyt and the artist selection committee.
Hoyt said the art reflects a fusion of Iowa’s culture and Marion’s past as a manufacturing town to its future as, hopefully, a city known for its public art and cultural spaces.
Farmer agreed that the space adds to Marion’s revitalization.
“I’m really pumped about it,” she said. “We’re sort of in transition from the railroad industrial town to ‘What do we want to be now?’ With the addition of the art in the alleys, I think it’s going to make it a really cool space. It makes me incredibly proud. I feel like my buy-in into this community has just gone up a million percent.
“It makes me feel really good that Marion is where I chose to relocate.”
Farmer said her goal for all her art is to keep the creations approachable, and she believes the ImaginArt in the Alleys draws people to interact with the pieces.
“There’s a group of Marion residents who are really skeptical about what these alleys are going to look like,” she said. “I think there’s a general feeling it’s going to be snooty, for a lack of a better word. This isn’t pretentious, esoteric, unapproachable artwork. It’s going to make the alley a vibrant social space.”
Luke Crawley and Quincy Owens, artists from Indianapolis, are constructing a set of three pillars with LED lights that change colors, which will be installed in the alley The pillars also feature audio recordings of sounds of Marion life and birds native to Iowa that Crawley intends to capture by visiting state parks in Eastern Iowa.
Visitors to the alley can access the recordings online through a QR code or URL address posted near the sculpture.
“For us, we feel (it is) important that we get to be a part of another community,” Crawley said. “It’s gong to be nice to know people in a different area going to value something we contributed and something that is going to contribute value to the area.”
Art on its way
Here are brief descriptions of the art planned for the ImaginArt in the Alleys project, as provided by project art director Karen Hoyt.
Artist: Cara Briggs Farmer, Marion
Art: A gateway feature rising from two planter boxes, and combine stainless steel with a colorful polycarbonate focal point overhead.
Artist: Dale Merrill, Mount Vernon
Art: A gateway piece with a series of leaf-like forms made of stainless steel and Cor-Ten, a steel that looks rusted. Diffused light shines through perforated steel sheets on each leaf. The sculpture sits inside a 55-foot-long raised bed with a seating wall.
Artist: John Schwarzkopf, Cedar Rapids
Art: An asymmetrical gateway feature with internal lighting to welcome pedestrians into the alleyway. Twin structures will be installed over limestone piers, bridged over the top with a metal roof.
Artist: Dan Perry, Waterloo
Art: A colorful steam engine caboose sculpture integrating themes of Marion’s early beginnings as a railroad town.
Artist: Chris Miller, Calais, Vt.
Art: A custom bike rack serves to promote healthy activity. A three-foot tall granite hand wearing a biker’s glove carved to look as if it’s coming out of the pavement holds up the rack.
Artist: Cecilia Lueza of Miami, Fla.
Art: A colorful mural featuring native Iowa birds painted on the stage wall. The stage, which will provide a space for performance art, sits perpendicular to the Iowa Reality Building on 10th Street.
Artists: Luke Crawley and Quincy Owens, Indianapolis
Art: Three colorful, interactive pillars stand in the open space where the alleys meet. LED lights in the pillars slowly change colors, and visitors can use their phones to access soundtracks of Marion life and birds native to Iowa.
Artist: Matthew Kargol, Oskaloosa
Art: A funky, cartoon-styled living room set made with welded metal and car paint.
Artist: Jake Balcom of Kansas City, Mo.
Art: A 30-foot-tall abstract tree, with a Corten steel “trunk,” topped with a starburst of sparkling steel.