Art fills our downtown with life

What makes a downtown unique?

Renovated facades? Small businesses? The Mahanay Carillon Tower? RVP-1875? The Welcome Center? The historic courthouse? The Thomas Jefferson Gardens? Renovated alley spaces?

The answer would be yes — all of these things make Jefferson unique among other communities in Iowa.

But there is one more component in making our downtown unique year-round: The public art that we have downtown adds to that uniqueness and adds vibrancy, not only to the downtown but to the people downtown.

I’ve gone to many meetings where experts speak, but the one that really struck a chord with me was a speaker that said this very simple statement: “To make downtowns feel alive, you must fill them with lives.” 


Having public art year-round downtown does that.

Art brings people to our downtown all year long.

People get out of their cars and ride off the bike trail and actually go look at art, whether it is the art located in Sally’s Alley, the statuary that we have on the Square of Lincoln and Jefferson, to see the artfully painted public piano, to see the beautiful art found inside our courthouse, or to the one of a kind rooftop art that can be seen from the observation deck of the Mahanay Carillon Tower. 

Art fills our downtown with lives.

We also have public sculptures that sit on the courthouse plaza. These sculptures make the plaza, the center of our community, come alive. 

People not only stop to look at them on their way to the Mahanay Tower or the courthouse or while shopping, they also stop and look at them when the tower, the courthouse and the stores are closed.

People visit year-round at all times of the day if and only if there is something to see.

Many of our organizations are using the term “creative placemaking” to better the downtown.

Creative placemaking is defined as using art to shape the physical and social character of a place in order to spur economic development, promote enduring social change and improve the physical environment. 

Tower View Team used creative placemaking techniques in Sally’s Alley and will also use these techniques in their new project, Arch Alley. They are using the arts to turn a space into a third place in our downtown.

Sally’s Alley is now a place where people gather, walk through, enjoy with family or just sit and watch the world go by with unique art and poetry surrounding them.

Sally’s Alley was even featured on the NPR program “Here and Now” as a perfect example of creative placemaking.

Now, working in the north alley, Tower View Team, along with artist David Williamson, students from Greene County and other interested community members, will turn that space into a place using creative placemaking with public art created by the public.

The sculptures that sit on the plaza also are a form of creative placemaking. 

One of the tenants of creative placemaking is the power of 10. A space (our downtown) should have at least 10 things to do, see or experience every day. 

We almost have that magic number of 10. It’s in our grasp. 

Tower View Team, along with the monetary sponsorship of Home State Bank, provides new sculptures to our community on a rotating basis through our Ring Out for Art event. This year the event will not be voted upon by the public, but rather they are offering a flat stipend to the four artists that will be chosen. 

Ring Out for Art, with public sculptures, adds to that power of 10.

Locating many pieces of art downtown year-round sends out a strong message that Jefferson welcomes other creatives into our community and into our lives. 

Yes, some of these Ring Out for Art sculptures are modern, and we have them sitting next to the historic courthouse. 

We shouldn’t be afraid of that juxtaposition.

It sends the message that we not only honor the past, we embrace our future, with art helping to lead the way. 

Ring Out for Art sculptures are an important part of true creative placemaking.

They are an important part of telling visitors that we do honor the arts and culture that makes our downtown unique. They are an integral part of the power of 10. 

Our public spaces are as profound as we allow them to be. 

Successful creative placemaking projects attract people. Places that attract people also attract new business, housing and other amenities. This becomes the start for other improvements.

My hope is that we want our public spaces to be unique, profound and welcoming year-round.

Don’t you?

Debra McGinn, of Jefferson, is chairwoman of Tower View Team.

Contact Us

Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161