To experience the artwork in Uptown Artway, it’s best to take a leisurely stroll and linger at the various gathering spots where nine amazing projects enliven the space. Seating, lighting and several large flower boxes have been added to create a welcoming atmosphere, day or night.

Can’t stroll around? Then scroll down for glimpses of each piece…

ConfluenceConfluence by Dan Perry


Evoke dark

Evoke by Dale Merrill


Prime Commonality night

Prime Commonality: Marion, Iowa by Owens + Crawley


Prairie Schooled

Prairie Schooled by Cara Briggs Farmer


Alley Blome (2)

Alley Blome by Jake Balcom


Alley Gateway (2)

Alley Gateway by John Schwarzkopf


Drawing Room

Drawing Room by Matthew Kargol


Life is a Ride

Life is a Ride by Chris Miller


Midnight Wonder

Midnight Wonder by Cecilia Lueza

What a joyous occasion! The City of Marion celebrated the completion of its ImaginArt in the Alleys project with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 20. While we were hoping to use our new stage for this event, cold rain forced everyone inside. Giving Tree Theater, just across the street from the alley, kindly opened its doors for the crowd. Many project partners were in attendance – pictured here are Iowa State Senator Liz Mathis, Linn County Board of Supervisors Chair Brent Oleson, Mayor Nick Abou-Assaly, members of Marion’s City staff, City Council, and Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors. The mayor thanked ArtPlace America for investing in Marion, and gave a nod to the many partners who brought this project to fruition. The space has been so dramatically transformed; he called it Marion’s new living room. The official name for our new gathering place is “Uptown Artway.”

DignitariesFour Iowa artists were in attendance (Dale Merrill, Cara Briggs Farmer, Matthew Kargol and John Schwarzkopf), and each spoke about their experiences working on their art installations. Our Leadership Team, Artist Selection Panel, and major donors also had a turn in the spotlight. Following group photos, we were entertained by the University of Iowa’s PanAmerican Steel Band, provided as a gift by the UI ArtsShare organization. The talented students and their instructor filled Giving Tree Theater’s intimate space with the incredible sound of 30 steel drums. I doubt anyone gave a thought to the cold rainy weather outside…

On March 24, I posted a blog regarding the vandalism of Cecilia Lueza’s mural. In today’s Cedar Rapids Gazette, it was reported that a man was caught on surveillance footage in February in the act of damaging the mural. He was identified on social media, charged yesterday by the MPD with second-degree criminal mischief, and will appear in court at a later date.

Cecilia made a return trip from Miami to Marion this past week in order to repair her mural. While she was repainting the damaged area, the vandal approached her to apologize for his crime. Since he will face either a very large fine or jail time, it is no surprise that he is well and truly sorry. Perhaps this unfortunate incident will send a message to others – that expressing yourself through legal means is a smart alternative to vandalism.

Art Brigade.jpgLast November, Cara Briggs Farmer completed her gateway feature for our alley project, and then set to work renovating her new studio/gallery/office space with a goal of opening in April. Earlier last fall, Cara had purchased a small, older industrial building near her home in Uptown Marion that needed a lot of TLC but showed promise of meeting her needs. While the workspace was no more than a shell, she was excited to have the room necessary to assemble the various components of her stainless steel gateway feature.

One sunny fall morning, friends gathered to transfer her artwork to its destination two blocks away at the north entrance to our project site. Drivers along Seventh Avenue, Marion’s main street, were undoubtedly surprised to see a sculpture rolling by! It traveled quickly and safely, face down, to its destination. All went smoothly, thanks to good planning, people power and a police escort!

Cara's StudioOver the past few months, Cara has worked alongside others to install a new roof on her building and make it fully functional for her growing business. The Grand Opening was held on April 22, right on time! Potential customers can now stop by Cara Briggs Farmer’s colorful new gallery at 933 9th Street in Marion or find her online at

EvokeDale Merrill’s series of 7 dramatic steel sculptures, which tower like giant sprouts growing in a raised bed, were installed in late March. The artist and his crew made several trips between Uptown Marion and Dale’s Mount Vernon studio, Liberty Ironworks, in order to assemble the various components on site. The gray “stems” are made from CorTen steel and will develop a rusty-colored patina over time. Each leaf form is made from stainless steel, and colored LED lights glow through the perforated steel sections of each leaf. The photo below was taken when the artist was still testing the electrical connections. By the second night, all the leaves were not only lit, but slowly changing colors. What a dramatic display!

Testing the LightingThe title, Evoke, is meant to engage viewers in the meaning or symbolism of the artwork. The sprouts remind me of the many students that graced my life throughout my career as an art teacher in the Linn-Mar and Marion schools. To the artist, it suggests our natural heritage, new growth, and individuals standing together as a community. The materials and theme are reminiscent of the immense sculpture, titled Yield, that Dale Merrill created for the City of Marion’s first roundabout on 35th Street and Tower Terrace Road. That sculpture uses a distinct agrarian theme in the form of stylized corn stalks made of rusting CorTen, with glittering stainless steel tassels. Both of these projects help to create a meaningful sense of place here in our community.


The City of Marion is one of Iowa’s fastest growing communities. So, why are people moving here? Learn by listening to Mayor Nicolas AbouAssaly’s 2017 State of the City Address. His closing remarks included statistics that a Gallup poll released in February, such as… 68% of Marion residents couldn’t imagine living in a better community, and 80% (!) feel that Marion is the perfect place for them. Marion residents take pride in their community’s reputation for public safety – including being recognized as Iowa’s safest city for its size for the past 14 years. Unsurprisingly, any instance of disrespect for public and private property is taken as an affront to the entire community. When a vandal recently applied spray paint over the head of the young girl featured in our stage mural, people were very surprised and dismayed. The layer of spray paint was removed, but our artist from Miami will need to fly back to repair the damage as soon as warm weather allows in April. One lesson learned, is that special anti-graffiti sealants can be applied to protect valuable public art from spray paints commonly used by vandals, and a variety of other proactive strategies can be used to ward off trouble.

Cecilia with Goldfinch

In order to deter criminal behavior and create a pleasant ambience, several light poles were installed in key locations throughout the alleys last fall. As soon as possible, several surveillance cameras will also be installed to monitor pedestrian activity. Marion’s placemaking project will not officially open until May 20, but with temperatures climbing, many people have been curious to explore the area. The public is being asked to help maintain the alleys as a safe, clean, welcoming place, and report any suspicious activity or inappropriate behavior to the MPD. In order to share information about what the City of Marion is doing to prevent vandalism, reporter Matthew Lange provided an excellent news feature that aired March 22nd on CBS2.

Uptown Marion alley walkDuring the visioning process for our alley project in 2014, a place for live music was often requested. The City owns only the 10’-wide alleyways themselves, like the one shown in this photo from 2015. But thanks to an easement space acquired behind private property seen on the left, a stage has been created. Visitors will now have a permanent outdoor venue where everyone can enjoy the performing arts, art demonstrations and special events in Uptown Marion.

stage-wall-copyThe 9’ by 23’ wall behind the stage area was made possible through a generous in-kind contribution from Ryan Companies (Cedar Rapids), with additional support from area businesses including Seedorff Masonry (Strawberry Point), Central States Concrete (Marion), and T&K Roofing and Sheet Metal Co (Ely). These in-kind donations are very much appreciated, and will help make the stage a functional and beautiful focal point in the area referred to as the Central Commons of our project site.


The stage area took shape throughout the construction season of 2016. Brad Thomason, a Ryan employee and Marion resident, has been instrumental in coordinating the project – networking with many partners and even prepping the stage wall himself on behalf of the artist. As an accomplished architect, Brad has also provided valuable insights as a member of our Artist Selection Panel. Ryan Companies built a temporary enclosure to keep the area warm enough for artist Cecilia Lueza to paint comfortably in mid-November.


The public asked for artwork that references our history – both cultural and natural. So our Artist Selection Panel expects the theme of native Iowa birds to resonate with the community (Our local Audubon Society contributed to this project!). Cecilia Lueza, who has an affinity for birds of all sorts, traveled here from Miami with her family and spent several days working on her beautiful mural. They plan to return for the Grand Opening on May 20, when the stage will finally be put to use. In the interim, thoughtful planning is happening behind the scenes. It is anticipated that the stage will be used to promote existing Marion businesses, showcase local talent, and offer a myriad of new opportunities for creative expression. Innovative ideas are welcome! To share your thoughts, visit the Uptown Marion Main Street website. Better yet, volunteer to help make it happen!


unloading-the-fainting-sofaDuring our visioning process the public requested seating in the alleys, so several places to relax and gather have been carefully planned. A key mission for ArtPlace America’s placemaking projects is to strengthen the social fabric of communities. The arts have a unique capacity to draw people together, and it is understood that serendipitous encounters in welcoming places like ours can contribute to healthier, more diverse communities. Seating is being provided at the east, west and south entrances of our project site, and thanks to easement spaces provided by property owners, there will be welcoming gathering spots at 3 additional locations. Iowa artist Matthew Kargol and his crew recently installed an entire outdoor “living room” near the center of the alley project! Because the public asked for artwork that is fun, functional and kid friendly, this installation fits the bill – it definitely communicates Marion’s brand as a great place to raise a family.

the-kargol-crewThe furniture comprising this living room setting, titled Drawing Room, is meant to bring the whimsy of a paper cartoon to the real world in human scale. This allows visitors to interact within the space and become characters in a story that they are continually creating. Fabricated steel and automotive paint are combined to create functional seating, and a colorful painted rug will anchor the nostalgic living room set to the site. Born in 1975 in Oskaloosa, Iowa, Matthew Kargol earned a BA and MA in visual art and sculpture from the University of Northern Iowa, and an MFA from Clemson University. Since 1998 he has completed several commissions for large-scale public sculptures in Iowa, South Carolina, South Dakota and Colorado. He is an art educator and art advocate who finds ways for communities to incorporate the arts into everyday life.



As shown in the paver art situated at the center of our project site, the City of Marion was established in 1839 (5 years before Iowa gained statehood). The idea for a traditional compass motif was envisioned in 2014, when community members developed the artistic vision for our ArtPlace grant application. The locals like to joke that Marion is the crossroads of the universe, and that all trails lead to Marion, so including this marker seemed a fitting focal point for our placemaking project. Our Leadership Team agreed to order a customized compass rose by PaverArt of New Jersey and had it installed where our 2 alleys intersect.

compass-roseA remarkable “New Map of Iowa” from 1850 shows Marion as THE transportation hub of Linn County. Iowa City was then the state capital, and neighboring Cedar Rapids did not yet exist. In those early days, it is said that half of Marion’s men worked for the railroad, but only our older residents remember the stream of freight and passenger trains rumbling through town. Marion’s railroad beds are now being converted to trails, so today’s residents and visitors are once again using historic routes for transportation and recreation. The Lincoln Byway and developing trail systems actually do lead to Marion!

cabooseDuring our visioning process, the public repeatedly asked for artwork that would reflect the City’s history. So our Artist Selection Panel knew they had to find a way to celebrate our railroad past in a way that would resonate with current and future residents. They looked to Waterloo artist Dan Perry to create a fun, colorful, abstract steam engine that would become a magnet for kids of all ages. Take a look at my previous post featuring his sculpture to see which visual elements echo those found in Marion’s beloved caboose, now retired at City Square Park a half block away.

It was a sight to behold, watching a colorful 17-foot tall abstract steam engine fly through the air and land at its appointed spot in the alley. This exciting installation was accomplished in just a few minutes, but represents many months of planning, design work and fabrication. On hand to assist Dan Perry was his colleague from the University of Northern Iowa and fellow public artist, Tom Stancliffe.


Confluence is defined as assemblage, which refers to disparate components coming together to create a whole. Elements of this abstract sculpture reference mechanical components of steam engines such as gears and wheels, offering a nod to Marion’s past as a classic railroad town. The interlocking forms also suggest the similarities between a machine and a thriving community – each has several moving parts that need to work together to achieve a goal. This colorful sculpture is meant to honor the past, energize the present, and hint at the future.


Over the past 10 years, Dan Perry has exhibited his artwork across the United States in over 25 juried group shows and 7 solo exhibitions, and has completed 7 public art commissions. At the University of Northern Iowa, he is currently an instructor as well as the Art Studio Technician. Dan serves on several civic organizations, including the Cedar Falls Public Art Committee.