New light array installation offers interactive elements to busy Downtown Iowa City alleyway

Friday, October 8th, Downtown Iowa City will turn on the lights to its latest public art installation. Starting at 6 pm, the overhead motion responsive lighting installation will officially be unveiled with a dance and music performance, “Synesthesia” during the annual Fall Gallery Walk. Following Friday’s performance, the light array installation will be permanently part of downtown’s infrastructure adding color and light to one of the busiest alleyway areas in Downtown Iowa City on a nightly basis.

In 2019, the Iowa City Downtown District released a request for proposal to downtown architecture firms to help design a multi-phased approach to authentic and unique improvements centered around clean and safe elements for the alley area between Dubuque St & Linn St. Slingshot Architecture was selected as the partner firm and work on the project’s first phase is now complete. The Slingshot Architecture’s vision for the alley first focused on the need to provide additional lighting to assist in better entrances for businesses and safety for pedestrians. An original illuminated canopy sculpture was designed by Slingshot as the creative solution to add both art and light to the area.

The tensile sculpture and interactive lighting installation creates a new identity for the alley rooted in the existing art and infrastructure that will increase public use and catalyze further investment to improve the aesthetics and economics of this and other downtown alleyways.

The lighting not only improves public safety but also creates a sense of place highlighting the mural and the new tensile arrays. A sophisticated control system created by local artist, Jason Snell, allows the lighting to be reactive to people’s movement through the alley as well as the capacity for music, weather, and other types of inputs to affect the lighting animations. “I’m thrilled that the first phase of the downtown district’s alley revitalization project will be premiering on Friday night! It has taken over two years to get here, but I’m grateful to the team of creative and generous people who made it happen”, Steve Miller, Lead Architect.

“It is great to see the first dramatic step of our larger plans for this alley get implemented and are extremely grateful to all of our partners in planning, engineering, and public art that have been working diligently to make this happen”, said Iowa City Downtown District Executive Director, Nancy Bird. “This is another showcase demonstrating that collaboration and innovation in public art is a great path forward for creating safer spaces while setting the stage for business and civic vibrancy.”

The newly lit alley, located between Dubuque St & Linn St north of US Bank, is looking at many more improvements targeted for the full alley transformation. “We hope to work with the City to establish a repaving plan and the consolidation of solid waste to see if this alley can be further activated for special events or even an improved daily pathway. There are a lot of possibilities that could unfold in the coming years if we continue to seek it out”, said, Bird.

As outlined in the Iowa City Downtown District’s overall strategic plan, the organization has a number of initiatives and programs focused on projects like this that find thoughtful and progressive solutions to improving the pedestrian experience. Proposed future phases of this alley revitalization project include organizing and concealing the existing dumpsters, resurfacing and adding permeable paving and landscaping, new micro-retail storefronts in underutilized existing commercial space, and flexible event space.

Details on the opening event:
Synesthesia (Interactive Exhibit feat. Jason Snell, Christine Burke, Rachel Saint & Stephanie Miracle)

Premiere of the interactive alleyway art exhibit in downtown Iowa City. The premiere will feature dance and music performances that show off the motion and sound responsivity of the installation.

When- October 8th, 6-8 pm
Where- Alleyway north of US Bank between Dubuque & Linn St.

Architect: Steve Miller, Slingshot Architecture
Lighting Designer: Mike Lambert, Teknephos
Lighting Control System Creator: Jason Snell
Electrician and Installation of tensile arrays: Rick Chambers, Emily Peck, Katie Robbins, and Ethan at Chambers Electric.
Bracket fabrication and engineering: Michael Hillman and Zane Brewer at the at the University of Iowa Engineering Machine Shop

Special thanks to Lindsay Houston at MidAmerican Energy for working with us and allowing us to use the power poles. Also, thanks to the City of Iowa City for their support.