Some strange trees are sprouting this spring in Malvern.
One has grown more than a dozen feet tall, with jagged bark and twisty branches covered with 1,000 leaves – all made from shiny iron.
The artist, Woody Jones, used to run a metal shop in town, but these days he’s turned his welding torch to a half-dozen sculptures that will soon grace this Mills County town of about 1,200, about halfway between Shenandoah and Council Bluffs. The trees are part of a local public-art project funded in part by the Iowa Great Places program.
“He’s been working like a banshee on the first one,” said the sculptor’s nephew, Zack Jones, an artist in his own right. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The younger Jones turned a local church into an art gallery several years ago and is planning to paint a bike-themed mural on the town’s old Main Street grocery store, just as soon as the weather warms up a bit. He wants to play up Malvern’s image as a fun spot to stop along the popular Wabash Trace Nature Trail, with a couple of good cafes, a bakery and another art gallery in addition to the Art Church. A new housing development is going up south of town, right next to the newly redesigned golf course.
“We had five ribbon-cuttings just last week,” Zack Jones said. “There’s visible momentum. Ten years ago folks were doing some events and a few new businesses were opening, but at the 10-year mark, we’re kicking into higher gear – more publicity, more projects in the works. Right now, we’ve got the momentum and we’ve got to run with it.”
The Iowa Great Places program can help communities do just that. It’s managed by the Iowa Arts Council and designed to help communities make the most of the cultural assets that make them unique. With an official Great Place designation, communities and nonprofit groups can get help with big-picture planning and can apply for a variety of matching grants, averaging about $185,000.
In Maquoketa, funding from Iowa Great Places has helped locals spiff up Main Street with renovations to historic facades and enhancements to the overall streetscape, making the area more appealing to pedestrians.
In Linn County, the Great Places program helped support the construction of an “Amazing Space” building at the Indian Creek Nature Center. Some 5,000 visitors came to the grand opening, over the course of two weeks in September, and since then, thousands more hikers, joggers, bikers and dog-walkers have re-connected with the natural beauty of the Cedar-Wapsi Recreational Byway.
But even if communities aren’t ready for the Great Places program, which requires a big commitment, the Iowa Arts Council offers grants for smaller initiatives, too. The up-to-$10,000 Arts Build Communities (ABC) Grants support community projects that address specific civic challenges or issues, with help from experts at any of the three state universities.
Folks in Waverly, for example, enlisted help from Iowa State to launch a program to help fight hunger right in town. Local students performed at a soup supper to raise money for the local food bank and have even designed sculptural donation receptacles to encourage locals to drop off food at a few sites around town.
In Van Buren County, a group from the Villages Folk School recruited help from the University of Iowa to honor the area’s farming heritage. They designed and installed a sculpture at the county fairgrounds that tells the stories of several area farmers.
These are just a few examples of the projects the Iowa Arts Council supports. But if you have another good idea, consider applying for a grant for your own community or nonprofit group.
The current round of applications is due May 1, and there are plenty of tools to help you through the process.
Cultural Trust Stability Grants: The Iowa Legislature recently transferred the fund’s principal to cover a shortfall in the state’s general budget, but we’ll disperse the remaining interest until the fund is empty. How To Apply webinar: Watch the recording.
Great Places: A designation cycle for new applicants is now open. All former Great Places must also re-apply for designation; eligible designees will be able to apply for grants this fall. How To Apply webinar: Watch the recording for new applicants or for returning applicants.
School Arts Experience Grants: Formerly known as the Big Yellow School Bus program, these grants have expanded to include field trips, in-school artist residencies and arts equipment. How To Apply webinar: 3 p.m. April 12.
As always, feel free to contact us should you have any questions.