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Arts & Culture

Dubuque Creates Art En Route

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The city of Dubuque is asking for the public’s help to create new public art at bus shelters this summer.

Art En Route is a new public art project through the city of Dubuque’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, in partnership with Green Dubuque and funded by a $25,000 national grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies' Asphalt Art Initiative. There were 220 communities nationwide that applied for the program; just 16 were approved and Dubuque is the only one in Iowa or Illinois.

The Asphalt Art Initiative was created by Bloomberg Philanthropies to help cities use art and design to improve street safety, revitalize public spaces, and engage their communities. The program not only seeks to create vibrant public spaces but also to build capacity for working with artists and community groups on projects involving transportation infrastructure.

Dubuque's solution is Art En Route, a project at the intersection of public art, public transit, and climate action efforts to enhance 14 bus shelters in the city with painted sidewalk murals under and around the shelters. Jenni Petersen-Brant, Dubuque’s arts and cultural affairs coordinator, says the grant is a perfect fit.

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Credit City of Dubuque
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Jenni Petersen-Brant

“There was all these aspects of the grant that fit what we were doing in Dubuque. There was this piece about doing public art in non-art spaces, that was really interesting to me.”

The grant sought collaboration involving different partners outside of the city, which Brant likes, noting it’s more than art.

“It was about using transportation infrastructure and pairing it with public art, to engage citizens or promote usage of public transit, or to promote public safety or things like that.”

Dubuque has done murals on sidewalks next to storm drains, which has been successful in the past two years.

“The community thought they were really cool and artists were interested in doing them. We were like, let’s just keep expanding murals on the sidewalks, because we know in Dubuque on walls have been successful. But we were like, what are the other painted surfaces we can work on and not get in trouble for working on them?”

Brant says the city wants to encourage use of mass transit, and make it more attractive. Community members of all ages are invited to share ideas for what the sidewalk mural at their neighborhood bus shelters could look like by downloading, completing, and submitting an Art En Route coloring sheet by March 15. The designs will influence an official open call for art, coming by June. Select mural concepts will be shared on social media to promote the project. When submitting a completed coloring sheet, teens (18+) and adults can elect to considered for short-term artist mentorships during painting of murals this summer, working with professional artists.

Brant wants public input so local residents have buy-in for the public assets.

“What do they want to see in it, so when we go back and put out call for artists, to actually provide us with more professional designs, we can say to the call for artists that our community wants to see these things, these images and these elements as essential pieces in the bus stop murals that are happening in their neighborhood.”

Community input helps the public to appreciate, embrace, understand, and connect with it, she says, noting they may choose one artist per location, or have artists do more than one. The city will put vinyl graphics on the shelters with information on the art.

Typically, Dubuque hosts a Growing Sustainable Communities conference in October. They hope to have the public art ready for the next one, with a bus tour to see the murals, Brant says the conference draws from Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The network of Art En Route sidewalk murals in summer 2021 will draw attention to the city’s extensive public transit system as a community asset while encouraging residents to actively partner in Dubuque’s Climate Action Plan. The project also furthers the city’s Arts and Culture Master Plan to make arts and cultural resources and activities available in every neighborhood in the city and county, to make art more visible in all aspects of daily life in Dubuque, and facilitate the presence and participation of arts and culture at non-cultural activities and venues.

The project is produced in collaboration with Green Dubuque, Sustainable Dubuque, the city of Dubuque's Transit Department, and Gigantic Design. For more information, visit cityofdubuque.org/artenroute.