Sunday, September 24, 2023

Join our email blast

Feature Story

Art… outdoors


“Liftoff” by Alice Aycock, 2021. One of the most recent pieces commissioned by the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation. Located at the entrance of the DSM International Airport.

As temperatures cool down, it’s the perfect time to venture outside and explore the hundreds of outdoor art pieces located around Des Moines.

From traditional murals and sculptures to more experimental installations that dance with light and sound, the benefits of public art are plentiful.

“It’s a very unique expression of our community values, and it just engages the community more fully with what’s around them,” said Susan Fitzsimmons, board president of the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation (GDMPAF). “That all adds to the vitality of our community.”

GDMPAF is only one of several public and private collaborations that deliver public art to the city. While many pieces are generated by large programs and corporations, others result through the efforts of local artists and nonprofits. 

CNA - Stop HIV/U=U (September #1)CNA - Substance Use (Sept 2023)

Multiple murals located beyond the downtown area were delivered through the Third Space, a public mural initiative. The program’s organizer, Brian Bonanno, worked to create equity by filling the gap he noticed in many cities, where art investments are mainly concentrated along the downtown area.

“We were looking for ways to generate a positive presence on the street in the neighborhoods where we were working, create new points of pride in the community, and also reflect the diversity of neighborhoods where we were working,” he said.

CITYVIEW compiled a small portion of the metro area’s art pieces, from the iconic to the often-overlooked. The following list is by no means comprehensive but is simply a taste of the rich and vast range of outdoor art our city has to offer. Use this list as a starting point, engage and enjoy.


Stroll or drive around Des Moines and you’ll find a treasure trove of art-covered walls. 

Untitled work by Jacob Kuperman. Created with a $0 budget using leftover paint during Art Week Des Moines in 2020. Kuperman considers this piece unfinished and said he wishes funds could be raised to complete it. South wall of YMCA Supportive Housing Campus, 2 S.W. Ninth St. Photo by Sofia Legaspi Dickens


“Future” by Jill Wells, 2021. Covering 4,500 square feet and created with assistance from Marissa Hernandez. Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families, 1171 Seventh St. Photo courtesy of Jill Wells


“No Action Too Small” by Chris Vance, 2013. Three-stories tall and created from recycled paint collected at Metro Hazardous Waste Drop-Off. 300 E. Locust St. Photo courtesy of Metro Waste Authority


“Bark Bark #9” by Jacob Kuperman with Calvin Johannsen, Caeden Debruin and Ryan François, 2022. South wall of Kinne Alumni and Development Center, 2403 University Ave. Photo courtesy of Jacob Kuperman


Portrait of Escaramuza Zacatecana by Brian Bonanno, 2020. 1944 E. Grand Ave. Photo courtesy of Third Space DSM


“Heart.Want you too” by Jordan “KNWSLF” Brooks, 2022. Inspired by Marvin Gaye’s single, “I Want You” and Kendrick Lamar’s “The Heart Part 5,” the piece reflects the artists’ sense of the energy, rhythm and history in the neighborhood. East wall of Lefty’s Live Music, 2307 University Ave. Photo courtesy of Jordan Brooks


“Juneteenth Joy.” Although not outdoors, this community grid mural gives new meaning to “public art.” Jill Wells facilitated as community members created their additions to the mural that traveled between neighborhoods during Art Week Des Moines 2022. Collaborating artist: Jack Marren, AXA 2022 Mentee. On display at Mainframe Studios, with plans for installation at a Des Moines public school site. Photo courtesy of Jill Wells


Who says art is just for the eyes? Experience art in motion and with audio through these installations.

“Borealis” by Alex Braden, 2022. Shifting colors invoke images of the Northern Lights. Downtown at Eighth Street Viaduct, below the bridge at Eighth and Cherry Streets. Photo by Alex Braidwood/Group Creatives

“River Constellation” by the artist teams of Natalia Zubko and Beau Kenyon, 2019. Orbs pulse with light and musical compositions are motion-triggered as you walk through the installation. Near Lauridsen Amphitheater at Water Works Park, 2201 George Flagg Parkway. Photo courtesy of Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation


“Prairie Song” by Reed Madden Designs, 2013. Steel blades of 20-foot-tall prairie grass sway in the breeze, with each leaf “rattling” like the sound of wind over grasslands. 1375 E. Court Ave. Photo by Sofia Legaspi Dickens


There are at least a dozen art pieces located downtown along the Des Moines River. Try to spot them all as you stroll along.

“Five Dangos” by Jun Kaneko, 2012. Ceramic forms mimicking Japanese dumplings and designed to “shake the air around it,” according to the artist. West side of the Des Moines River on the HubSpot Plaza at Water Street and Court Avenue. Photo by Sofia Legaspi Dickens


This year, Des Moines Park & Recreation installed 12 public art works along the Central Iowa Trail System, creating five art corridors at the Bill Riley, Carl Voss, John Pat Dorrian, Neal Smith and Walnut Creek trails.

“Then the World Healed” by Paula McArthur. Located on Carl Voss Trail near E. Park Avenue. Photo courtesy of Des Moines Parks & Recreation


“11 Panels of Flowers” by Paula Maxheim. Located on Walnut Creek Trail, east of North Valley Drive. Photo courtesy of Des Moines Parks & Recreation


“Closer to Oz” by Julie King. Located on Carl Voss Trail near East Park Avenue. Photo courtesy of Des Moines Parks & Recreation


East Village cyclists need not secure their bikes to just any old rack. These functional sculptures created by Iowa artists were unveiled during “Bike to Work Week” in 2006. Keep your eyes peeled; there are 11 bike racks in eight locations.

“Spotted Dog” by Matthew N. Kargol, East Locust and East Fifth streets. All photos by Sofia Legaspi Dickens 


“Untitled” by Tim Adams, East Locust Avenue & East Seventh Street


“Untitled” by Rob and Clare Robinson, East Locust Avenue & Sixth Street


“Sprocket” by Sherrie Taha, East Locust Avenue & Fourth Street


“Adagio” by Eleanor Kahn, East Locust Avenue & Robert D. Ray Drive


Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) integrated public art into several bus shelters along the Sixth Avenue Corridor and Drake University.

“Thanks for the Memories” by Mollie Wallace. Drake campus side of University Avenue in front of Cowles Library, 2507 University Ave. Photo courtesy of DART


“Liminal” by Dana Harrison. Drake campus side of University Avenue, northeast of Walgreens, 3030 University Ave. Photo courtesy of DART


By Sheena Rose. Located at Stop #567 at Sixth and Franklin Avenues. Photo courtesy of DART


For big doses of outdoor art, visit one of Des Moines’ sculpture parks, both large and small.

The pride of downtown Des Moines, the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park spans 4.4 acres with dozens of sculptures. Open sunrise to sunset — picnics encouraged! Located at 1330 Grand Ave. Pictured is “​​T8” by Mark di Suvero, 1985. Photo courtesy of Catch Des Moines


The South Des Moines Sculpture Park features a flying woman in red, a floating egg shape, oversized office supplies and other quirky pieces. Located at the corner of S.W. Eighth Street and McKinley Ave. Photo by Sofia Legaspi Dickens


The grounds surrounding the State Capitol may not be an official sculpture park, but more than 40 memorials, sculptures and fountains beg to differ. Pictured is “Shattering Silence” by James Ellwanger, 2009. Photo courtesy of Greater Des Moines Partnership


Enjoy 11 installed sculptures under beautiful shade trees at the American Enterprise Art Park. For a fun challenge, try to spot: “Family at Corner” created by Watson Powell, Jr. Tip: look up! Photo by Sofia Legaspi Dickens

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Best of Des Moines