Blue Ribbon Beautification Project

September 29, 2021
drewnorton's picture

Did you see the beautiful murals on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in August? If you missed seeing the new artwork, come out to the Fairgrounds to look for yourself. The photos don’t do them justice. Adding the murals to the Fairgrounds were one of the many highlights of the summer – a true beautification project.

Public art adds enormous value to the culture of a community. When traveling across Iowa, in rural and urban communities alike, you will discover their individual charm and community awareness expressed through architecture, murals and art installations. Public art contributes to a community's identity, fosters pride and a sense of belonging.

The Iowa State Fair hosts the state’s largest art show highlighting exhibits in fine arts, photography, and creative arts but these works were only present during the Fair. The Fairgrounds needed to reflect Iowans’ creativity throughout the year and adding public art was the perfect way to do so. Over the past decade, the Iowa State Fairgrounds has taken the opportunity to add more public art but desired to have something that truly made a statement and was a welcoming, interactive design for any visitor.

Located in the southwest section of the Iowa State Fairgrounds is a concrete block building that houses an electrical sub-station. It is a very non-descript building sitting across from one of the Fairgrounds’ busiest entry gates, the gate where all of our Park-&-Ride buses drop off and pick up. It also sits at an intersection within the grounds that is used throughout the year as visitors attend events at the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, the Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building, the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building and the four livestock barns. Plus, it can be seen from the road as people drive by going about their everyday lives.

The concept was to use a local artist to create a mural on each of the four sides of the building. The Liz Lidgett Gallery coordinated the project and recommended local artist and Fair-lover James Navarro. The challenge – the art for the mural had to represent all areas of the Iowa State Fair – food, rides, 4-H, FFA, art, horticulture, camping, families, entertainment, competition, animals, etc. There had to be something within one of the four paintings that anyone could relate to.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation brought the mural idea and concepts to the Fair Board and submitted a grant request to the Meredith Corporation Foundation. Meredith had supported the Foundation in its infancy with in-kind advertisements but had never found a project that was truly the right fit to form a partnership.

When the mural concept was presented to the Meredith Corporation Foundation board, they easily approved it, providing 100% of the funding for the painting and design costs, $15,000. The Foundation covered costs for full artistic rights to the images and the application of a protective coating. The Meredith Corporation is well-known for its commitment to arts and culture and was thrilled to help improve the historic Fairgrounds.

The Iowa State Fairgrounds is a beautiful park-like facility with grand, exposition-style architecture, lush landscaping and public art. It is a point of pride for the city of Des Moines and our state and serves as an economic generator, hosting more than 350+ event days throughout the year. It is hard to imagine how transforming one non-descript building into a welcoming feature on the Fairgrounds can revive an area and make it a focal point for capturing a family’s visit but this project did.

This small beautification project adds visual interest for all guests walking (or even driving) by during their visit to the Iowa State Fairgrounds and provides a backdrop for families to take their photos, year after year. At the 2021 Fair, you could not pass the murals without seeing someone taking a picture of a friend, their family or even for a complete stranger. The smiles were contagious.

Thank you again to the Meredith Corporation Foundation, Liz Lidgett Gallery and James Navarro for making the concept a reality. Send us your family picture in front of the mural – it will definitely be one of the Foundation staff’s new traditions.

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