ImaginArt in the Alleys     An Idea Comes to Life in Marion

Photography by Justin Fox

If you live, work or have visited Marion recently, you may have noticed that the alleys in Uptown Marion are under construction. This is history in the making, as the ImaginArt in the Alleys infrastructure is being prepared for beautiful art which will be showcased in the alleys.

The impetus for this work dates back to 2009 when consultant Olsson Associates was helping develop Marion’s Central Corridor Master Plan. The firm suggested thinking of ways to creatively use the alleys when 7th Avenue is eventually under construction. This recommendation was echoed by Dan Burden, co-founder of Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, during his visits to the community. With encouragement from Main Street Iowa, the City submitted a Letter of Interest for a grant from ArtPlace America that would help make the City’s historic commercial district more pedestrian friendly and complement the reconstruction of 7th Avenue.

Spring of 2014 brought great news that the City had been chosen as a finalist, and by summer it was announced that Marion was the only entity in Iowa to receive ArtPlace funding. The grant of $350,000 was the 13th highest in the nation. A Leadership Team was formed by October, which included staff members from the City and Chamber of Commerce and a newly-contracted art director/fundraiser.

The visioning process was kicked off by Marion’s Blue Zones Team and Dan Burden when a group of more than 60 community members began to consider ideas for the project. Outstanding design students and art staff from local high schools and ISU worked on the visioning process by collaborating with Marion shop owners with a goal of generating ideas to make their back entrances more inviting for customers. An Artist Selection Panel was formed to organize public input and develop an artistic vision for the project.

In January of 2015, Shive-Hattery was chosen to assist the City in development of designs and engineering for the infrastructure enhancements. The project area includes the alleyways between 10th & 11th Street and 7th & 8th Avenue, as well as easements for gathering spaces adjacent to private property.

The construction project was let to bid, a national call to artists was issued, and the fundraising campaign began in April of 2015. The goal was to finish the project by Dec. 31, to adhere to the ArtPlace grant deadline. A setback in May occurred when the single bid for construction was nearly double what the engineers had estimated, so a one-year extension was granted by the ArtPlace staff. The project was reviewed to reduce the cost and Shive-Hattery revamped the design with the lower price tag.

Construction work began shortly after a groundbreaking ceremony in May 2016. The artists currently under contract include:

Dale Merrill, Liberty Ironworks, Mt. Vernon, Iowa
Dan Perry, Waterloo, Iowa
Chris Miller, Calais, Vermont
Cecilia Lueza, Miami, Florida
Luke Crawley/Quincy Owens, Indianapolis, Indiana
Matthew Kargol, Oskaloosa, Iowa
Cara Briggs Farmer, Marion, Iowa
Jake Balcom, Kansas City, Missouri
John Schwarzkopf, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Three additional artists have been pre-approved by the Artist Selection Panel and will likely be offered contracts in the future.

A stage has been planned for a spot near the center of the project area adjacent to Iowa Realty, and Ryan Companies has generously offered to provide a wall for the back of the stage. This in-kind contribution will serve as a colorful backdrop for performers while providing an 8 by 23 foot canvas for the only painted mural.

“Ryan Companies likes building things. With the unique nature of this project, it was only natural that we try and find a way to contribute and give back to the community in a meaningful way. Improving the platform in the central area of the project was a natural for us.”
Brad Thomason, Ryan Companies

The deadline for the construction work is October 28 and the entire project will be finished by Dec. 31, 2016. So remember to visit Uptown Marion to see the finished project and while you are there, explore the unique shops, restaurants and bars, and take in the historical small town charm of Marion.

*Thanks to Karen Hoyt, (Art Director for ImaginArt in the Alleys), for providing information contained in this feature.

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