Des Moines installs ‘art corridors’ along five bike paths, featuring local artists


Aaron Graves, Des Moines Parks and Recreation Planner, in the John Pat Dorrian Trail Art Corridor – Courtney Guein/Little Village

New art installations have changed the view along five of Des Moines’ popular bike paths. These “art corridors” include signs mounted on a line of metal posts, angled towards pedestrians and cyclists coming down the path.

“If you’re familiar with kinetic art or elliptical lenticular art, where no matter how you move you can see something different – that’s really what we wanted to do,” said Aaron Graves, planner four-year park manager at the Des Moines Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Bike Trail Art Corridor project, led by Graves, is scattered along sections of the Bill Riley Trail, Carl Voss Trail, John Pat Dorrian Trail, Neal Smith Trail, and Walnut Creek Trail.

Map of the five Art Corridor locations. — via the city of Des Moines

The project is a collaboration between the city, community organizations and a local family seeking to commemorate their lost loved one. The Honorable Colin J. Witt, who died in February 2020 after a 19-month battle with cancer, served as an associate judge in Polk County Juvenile Court and spent his career advocating for child protection and human rights families.

“He believed that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” read his obituary. “Colin had the ability to hold power and tenderness in the same breath; always seeking to see the other and to lead with love, understanding, mercy and justice.

The Witt family wanted to celebrate their life in a way that incorporated art, not just a plaque on a park bench. Witt was an avid cyclist, competing in triathlons and riding RAGBRAI with a team of family and friends, which steered the project towards bike paths.

Grants and donations funded the project, primarily from Bravo Greater Des Moines. Founded in 2004, Bravo is a partnership of 17 central Iowa municipal governments who dedicate a portion of their annual hotel and motel tax revenues to fund local arts and cultural initiatives.

The Des Moines Department of Parks and Recreation also supported the Bike Trail Art Corridor project, along with Friends of Des Moines, ArtForce Iowa – which helped illustrate the corridors along the Riley Trail – and the Witt family, who funded the installation of the Riley Trail. corridor.

“The digital trail system connects all of the Central Iowa trail systems all around, so about 600 miles, and it’s a free-access area,” Graves explained. “[The Bike Trail Art Corridor Project] is a way to showcase local Des Moines artwork in an unconventional way, but also gives people the opportunity to see it.

The Witt family, including Colin Witt’s wife, son and father, volunteered to help install the ArtForce pieces Colin Kindness and sunset birds along Riley Trail which made Graves quite nervous.

“It’s a memorial, and I knew the family was coming out. And instantly, it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “I don’t want anything to go wrong, because they’re raising the funds for do this… it’s like, I really hope it works.”

But despite Graves’ butterfly belly, he says he remembers that day was very special. “After working with them for about a year developing what we were doing, planning and all that stuff, even fundraising, it was cool to see them all involved in hammering the rivets on the panel.”

Des Moines Parks and Rec held an art contest to select artwork for the hallways. For artists to enter, they had to either be a resident of Des Moines or own a business in Des Moines. Each artist was allowed to submit up to two works. Of the 40 artists who applied, only nine were accepted: Julie King, Paula McArthur, Diane Bohlen, Emily Lawson, Autumn Rozario Hall, Mike Hiatt, Jessica Gomez and Paula Maxheim.

“We had a lot of really good plays and I was shocked at how many plays we got,” Graves said. “I was really excited that we got so much input from local artists because that was my goal. To develop something that gave them the opportunity to showcase their work, and especially with so many eyes, like, a potential of five million eyes, in our whole system – I think that’s great!

The Bill Riley Trail art corridor, designed by ArtForce artists. —Courtney Guein/Petit Village

The idea for the art corridors came from a series of trackside art installations designed by Seattle artist Jennifer Dixon. at Dixon flip books “fantastically invites trail users to experience a sense of movement and play along the public right-of-way,” according to the artist.

Each art panel from chosen local artists is printed on a 3ft by 11ft sheet, then cut into different layers and installed in a row on poles. Depending on where you are, you may have a different perception of art.

Not wanting to leave the back of the sheets blank, Graves worked with Des Moines-based company Project7 Design to create colorful graphics on the post side of the panels, inspired by the local landscape.

“Each graphic on the back of the signs is based on the location of the trail. So this one [at the John Pat Dorrian trail], will always have some John Pat Dorrian stuff in the back. When you go to Bill Riley Trail, completely different graphic. Carl Voss Trail, same thing,” Graves said.

When riding to the right of the poles, you will see the artwork on the front; on the left, identity graphics.

Unique graphic designs cover the back of ArtForce Iowa’s art panels on Bill Riley Trail. —Courtney Guein/Petit Village

Images of the art installation cannot be found on the Des Moines Parks and Rec website, which Graves says is intentional. He encouraged curious eyes to see the art in person.

“It’s about getting on the trail and experiencing those trails. And I think that’s the good part of spreading them all over town… it’s not just ‘I can hit all five in half an hour.’ Nope! It’s, ‘I’m going to embark on this adventure. I’m going to see this one and then I’ll go to the next trail maybe the next day or next week. ‘”

Graves describes himself as a creative person who needs some sort of artistic outlet. He got into landscape architecture after graduating from Iowa State University in the field. Jobs that followed ranged from publishing DIY projects in Lowe’s Home Improvement magazine to freelance art and photography.

Since joining Des Moines Parks and Rec, he said he’s made sure to keep putting his artistic foot forward to bring more art, innovative playgrounds and entertainment to his hometown. other new experiences. During our interview, he stopped to smile, noticing children playing at a nearby playground he had designed.

Moments like that are monumental for Graves, who grew up in Des Moines. “There is nothing better than getting involved in the communities and meeting with them to determine what they want and what they need. And then trying to give them as much as I can with the budgets I’m allowed – it’s amazing,” Graves said proudly. “I live in Des Moines, I don’t plan to leave Des Moines.”

The cycling community also seems excited about the new sights. Graves said he received positive feedback from riders, even during the installation process.

“Just to see people’s reaction,” he said, “it’s been an amazing process, to be honest with you. It’s been a really, really amazing project to work on.

Organizers hope to keep the current artwork for about two years and hold another art competition for new pieces to take the place of the originals.

Meanwhile, Graves wants to create a spatial rhythm that would further identify the location with the art on the ground. He pushes for permanent indicators to see art from different angles. Adding corridors along even more local trails is also on the table.


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