Bridging the Gap

Laura Formanek. Photo: Duane Tinkey

Writer: Dan Ray

This time next year, the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge is going to look a little different.

In honor of Women’s History Month, in March 2025, local artist Laura Formanek plans to project images, videos and audio clips of significant Iowa women onto the landmark suspension bridge in downtown Des Moines. Grouped in themes, the projections will form a loop for visitors to walk through, from either end, to learn more about Iowa women’s achievements in the past, present and even the future.

The project got a big boost last September, when Formanek won a grant from the Des Moines Arts Festival. She had pitched the idea at the organization’s microgrant dinner and won the grant through a crowd vote. “I was really honored,” she said. “It was a really cool way to bring artists together and rally the community behind something.”

Jessie Field Shambaugh. Photo: Iowa 4-H Foundation

The Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge was dedicated in 2013 and initially honored four famous women: suffragist Carrie Lane Chapman Catt, philanthropist and civil rights activist Louise Rosenfield Noun, scientist and educator Sister Bernadine Pieper and Gertrude Elzora Durden Rush, the first African American woman to practice law in Iowa. Since then, Women Lead Change, the bridge’s honorary stewards, have added more notable names each year to its memorial display.

For Formanek’s installation, she plans to feature a few of the bridge’s honorees as well as some others. She wants to showcase a diverse range of women and achievements, including Jessie Field Shambaugh, the founding “Mother of 4-H”; Mary Wood, the first Black woman to lead the YWCA; and Esperanza Martinez, a Mexican immigrant whom former Gov. Robert Ray recognized as an Outstanding Citizen of the State.

The artist also hopes to organize a few corresponding events — workshops, artist talks, even a fashion show on the bridge itself. She wants the project to be a community affair and plans to enlist student artists and local organizations in its creation.

Formanek came up with the idea during the pandemic, when she often crossed the bridge and wanted to encourage others to do the same. “I spent a lot of time running and walking in those more solitary, isolated times,” she said. “As a woman and a small business owner, I would run across this bridge, and I was like, ‘OK, if these women can achieve great things, I can, too.’”

Learn more: For details about the art project and how to get involved, visit To learn more about Formanek and her other video work, visit her website at

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