Jessica Rowe, public art has made Des Moines better

  • Teva Dawson leads the group’s creative services in Des Moines.

Jessica Rowe’s retirement from the Des Moines Public Art Foundation merits reflection on the strength of her work and the growing importance of public art

In 2013, I helped visitors to Gray’s Lake write haiku poems based on their experience in the park; the children also wrote wishes for our rivers on flags. Hanging the poems and flags in the park caught the eye of Jessica Rowe of the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation. The foundation brought people together to explore temporary forms of public art; Jessica was gathering interesting people hoping interesting things would happen.

While I started planning in 2015 at Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization for what is now ICON Water Trails, she built momentum among state and local governments to bring in Mary Mattingly from New York for “Wading Bridge” , sparking critical conversations about improving water quality.

Most of us today saw artwork wrapping Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority buses and shelters, Riverwalk sculptures, and dozens of murals. This is the foundation’s vital work – adding cultural, social and economic value to our community. Jessica has seen the emergence of new forms and activated artists for resolutely civic ends. She pushed public art into new spaces, understanding that public art has the power, as she puts it, to “make us think, feel, and – in some special cases – change the world”.

Additionally, she encouraged me to start a new business in Des Moines – a public art consultancy that has served Iowa and surrounding states, working to transform the role of artists in resolving issues. civics. One of our first projects with the foundation was “River Constellation” by Natalia Zubko and Beau Kenyon at the Water Works Park.

Research tells us that community attachment brings economic growth and well-being – prosocial behaviors including volunteering, voting, investing and more. When people feel connected, they commit to creating a better place. According to the Knight Foundation, the main indicators of attachment are social offers (opportunities to interact), aesthetics and openness. Public art can directly support these important dimensions of our culture in a way that accelerates community growth and the achievement of civic goals. Indeed, great public art reflects a community’s commitment to imagination and cooperation.

Yet public art projects are difficult. It is remarkable that one person has had the experience, skills and personality to bring artists, governments and other stakeholders together for the benefit of the public. This takes tenacity, especially given the 135 works in the Foundation’s long-term inventory. Standing at the base of “A Monumental Journey” by Kerry James Marshall, I feel the determination of the foundation around the power of artist expression.

We should all thank Jessica Rowe for her leadership. We should be proud of our public art. We should all welcome more artists into our work.

Teva Dawson

Teva Dawson leads the group’s creative services in Des Moines.

Christopher S. Washington