Sculpting A Masterpiece

Merging culture with the great outdoors is what the city of Des Moines, Iowa, was able to accomplish with the opening of the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park.

The park occupies 4.4 acres in the heart of the city, with a new cultural center that has attracted more than 16,000 visitors since it opened in September 2009.

“[The reaction has] been extremely positive from the residents,” says Jeff Fleming, Art Director of the Des Moines Art Center. “It was crowded immediately.”

Altering The Cityscape

In the fall of 2006, residents and philanthropists John and Mary Pappajohn contacted the city to donate 24 outdoor sculptures from their private collection. The idea sparked the development of the sculpture park, a collaborative venture between the Pappajohns, the city and the art center.

The project, announced in January 2007, cost $6.4 million in public and private funding for development, as well as an operations and maintenance endowment. The park developed into a permanent installation within the city’s Western Gateway Park. New York-based project architects Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas, who developed a master plan for the city in the early 1990s, created the design for the new park, which features a rolling landscape and crescent-shaped, open cutaways that frame the sculptures. Eight-foot backdrop walls carved out of mounds are placed throughout the garden.

The new art park has changed the atmosphere of the community, says Fleming. Since it is located in the major arteries of the city, you can’t miss it.

“It’s culturally enhancing,” he says. “It has helped draw in tourists and also the prospect of new business.”

Redeveloping The Heart Of The City

The project became the catalyst for redevelopment, which was suggested in the plan by Agrest and Gandelsonas. Since March 2008, the Western Gateway has seen the groundbreaking of the Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield building and the opening of two new restaurants as well as the Des Moines Social Club, and the renovation of the Hotel Fort Des Moines.

The park has become a popular venue for special events, including weddings, corporate picnics, concerts, theatre performances, etc. The city acquires additional revenue through these offerings.

Maintaining The Park Grounds

The art center and city co-manage operations and maintenance functions at the park. The art center is responsible for conservation of the art.

Park maintenance is executed through best practices:

• Irrigation occurs on a weekly schedule along with weekly inspections of all heads and flow patterns.

• The turf is kept at a uniform height between 2.5 and 3.5 inches.

• Fertilization is employed quarterly according to seasonal needs.

• Artwork is kept free from grass clippings or other debris; herbicides are applied to keep the artwork weed-free.

• Deep-core aeration of all turf areas occurs in spring and fall.

• Coreless aeration is used monthly in high-traffic areas.

• Trees are pruned and replaced as needed to maintain longevity. Ground covers and shrub beds are planted and pruned as needed.

• Snow removal on the sidewalks and near parking meters happens after each inch of snow accumulates.

Maintaining The Art

The Pappajohns’ gift--the most significant donation of artwork ever made in a single gift to the art center--includes sculptures by Louise Bourgeois, Scott Burton, Deborah Butterfield, Anthony Caro, Tony Cragg, Willem de Kooning, Mark di Suvero, Barry Flanagan, Gary Hume, Ellsworth Kelly, Sol Lewitt, Jaume Plensa, Martin Puryear, Ugo Rondinone, Richard Serra, Joel Shapiro, Judith Shea, Tony Smith and William Tucker. The works are valued at $40 million.

Although the parks department monitors the sculptures while maintaining the park, any actual upkeep or conservation must be performed by the art center. The center inspects the sculptures and individual pedestals on a weekly basis. Surface cleaning is conducted as needed. In the fall and spring, the art center completes an extensive cleaning and rewaxing of all sculptures within the park.

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at HReichle28@yahoo.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .