Suburban Renaissance

Highway guardrails take a new twist in “Woven Lines,” a 20,000-pound sculpture the Maine artist Aaron Stephan designed for Altoona’s First Avenue roundabout in 2022. Photo: Alex Braidwood

Writer: Michael Morain

It’s been 15 years since the Pappajohn Sculpture Park opened on the west end of downtown. It has revitalized the surrounding area, drawn throngs of visitors and generated no small amount of civic pride.

Farther afield, several other Central Iowa communities have installed prominent public artwork of their own, with their own goals in mind and guidance from the local consulting firm Group Creatives. Here are three to see, now or in the near future.


Goal: To enhance Waterworks Park and raise awareness about water quality.

Solution: “Water Water Everywhere” is a thicket of metal signs, some nearly 20 feet tall, that spell out the well-known phrase from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The words appear as fragments that can be read only from particular angles.

“We want to break down a complex, sticky issue” — in this case, water quality — “and add a sense of play and joy,” said artist Amanda Lovelee, who works with Emily Stover in the Twin Cities art collective Plus/And, which installed the sculpture last summer. They also designed “Hello, River,” a shell-shaped sculpture slated for installation this summer in downtown Des Moines.

The artists worked with the Grimes public works office to fabricate their artwork with the same materials the city uses for street signs. They chose a palette inspired by local wildflowers and tossed a bit of glitter into the steel’s powder coating, just for fun. “We often think of nature as brown and green,” Lovelee said, “but so many pop culture colors come right from nature.”

Photos: Chris Boeke Studio


Goal: To help residents foster deeper connections to the natural beauty of Lake Petocka.

Solution: The master plan for “ARTocka” features five separate installations at the 19-acre lake just west of Highway 65. Each artwork riffs on a familiar domestic space.

The “garden” (top) is an intentionally crooked dock designed to add artificial shoreline, offering visitors extra space to dip their toes in the water or fish for rainbow and brook trout stocked by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The “dining room” (middle) will comprise several long tables that intersect with earthen walls, offering visitors a place to picnic. And in the “pavilion” (bottom), vines will climb up a puddle-shaped pergola.

“ARTocka” was designed by a design firm called i/thee. Installation is slated to begin in summer 2025.

Renderings: i/


Goal: To revitalize Buxton Street and promote foot traffic between Simpson College and the downtown square.

Solution: Multimedia artist Joe Tuggle Lacina of Grinnell designed six concrete sculptures that feature local cultural highlights, including the Des Moines Metro Opera, National Balloon Classic and Thunder the Elephant, who became Simpson College’s mascot in 2021. Each sculpture is about 5 feet wide and deep and 7 feet tall, with a blocky minimalist style.

The first two sculptures are slated to go up this summer, followed by four more next year. Plans are also in the works to incorporate a digital component, so visitors can learn more online.

Renderings: Joe Tuggle Lacina

  • Show Comments (0)

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

comment *

  • name *

  • email *

  • website *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You May Also Like

A grand prize for Autry, inspired by the Grand Prix

Jim Autry read a few of his poems last week during Poetry Palooza’s opening ...

A Match Made in the Heavens

For married artists, his aerial photos inspire her custom jewelry.

May/Jun: Out and About

Deep Dive Few people on earth have spent more time underwater or seen more ...