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Explore the Creative Side of Ames, IA

There's plenty of ways to enjoy outstanding art in the Heart of Iowa.

By Erica Buehler on June 13, 2022

Heart of Ames Mural in Ames, IA
Lauren Gifford

An integral part of everyday life in Ames and the Heart of Iowa is loving thy neighbor, and perhaps more importantly, admiring thy neighbor’s talents.

The Ames area fosters its strong sense of community by celebrating local art and artists whenever (and wherever) possible. Downtown Ames has a commission dedicated specifically to art, ensuring it remains a main attraction for locals and visitors.

Art Walk in Ames, IA
Ames Chamber of Commerce/Ames Main Street

Walk Among Art in Ames

One of the region’s most popular events is the annual Downtown Art Walk, a summer festival open to all ages where local artists and musicians can show off their talents and display their works.

“Our vision is to be a gathering space and a hub for arts, culture and entertainment,” says Sarah Dvorsky, executive director of Ames Main Street. “It’s a great opportunity to see some more art in the area and for artists to get their names out there.”

Dvorsky also notes the various murals brightening downtown Ames. Three new murals are part of the streetscape at Main Street and Kellogg Avenue. One of them was created by artist Lauren Gifford, aka Lauren Liz, who once lived across the street from where her work is now displayed. Murals by other artists can be seen at Main Street and Pearle Avenue, and Main and Duff Avenue.

“It presents an opportunity for the community to really engage with local businesses and arts and culture all as one.”

Sarah Dvorsky | Ames Main Street

You’ll also find plenty of murals beyond Main Street, with the Grant Wood murals in the Iowa State University Library perhaps the most noteworthy. The massive oil-on-canvas paintings are the work of famed American artist and Iowa native Grant Wood and a select few artists who completed them for the library in the 1930s.

Library visitors can see sprawling farmscapes and industrial scenes in the building’s lobby, paying homage to Iowa’s agricultural and manufacturing history.

Two years ago, the City of Ames formed its Public Art Commission, a board dedicated to sourcing and funding public art and related programs for the city. One of its most prominent initiatives is the Neighborhood Sculpture Program, where Ames neighborhoods have the option to purchase sculptures or pieces of art on display in the Ames Annual Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition that can be erected in a public area of that neighborhood.

It’s a collaborative effort in which neighborhoods have a say in the beautification of their spaces, local art and artists are celebrated, and communities are further strengthened.

Freedom Flight Rock in Story City, IA
Rick Lozier

Worth the Visit to Zearing and Story City

Northeast of Ames is Zearing, another small community where Blattel-Britton Studios has its home.

Benjamin Brit on and wife Carolyn Blattel-Britton run the studio where their works (metal sculptures, and ink and colored pencil drawings, respectively) are available to view and/or purchase. Visitors can also wander through the studio’s serene rock and sculpture garden.

And almost directly north of Ames sits Story City, home of the Story County Freedom Flight and Heritage Memorial, a painted rock showcasing three distinct themes related to the area’s history, including honoring those who have served in the armed forces, those who organized the Freedom Flights out of Story County, and a tribute to the area’s Scandinavian heritage.

Tying Towns Together

Heather Johnson, director of Octagon Center for the Arts, says art undoubtedly fosters a sense of community throughout Ames and surrounding towns.

“Access to the arts and culture help people feel more satisfied and rooted in their neighborhoods,” she says. “In children, we know that rich experiences with the arts help them develop skills and abilities like critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, communication, social skills, fine motor skills and imagination.”

Johnson says the Octagon has a variety of arts programs along with spaces where people of all ages, backgrounds and skill levels can come create, e exhibit and sell art.

“We offer in-person classes, workshops, virtual classes, art camps, art kits and even an annual art festival, and anyone can visit our gallery for free,” she says. “A recent report from the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts shows that for every $1 a community spends on the arts, there is a return on investment of $7. The arts do fuel economic prosperity and tourism and improve our quality of life.”

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