The red bricks encasing a downtown building soon will bear a realistic mural to liven up downtown Maquoketa and events on the greenspace.

Bob Wagener owns the corner building south of the greenspace. He donated use of the lower half of the building for the mural. Wagener must have some of the bricks repaired before the muralist can begin, according to project organizer Nancy Kilburg.

The final mural image remains in the sketch phase and has not been finalized, but Kilburg and the steering committee leading the community art effort expect to see three sketches within the next couple weeks.

“We hope to start in July,” Kilburg said. The project will take about three weeks.

“Maquoketa is up-and-coming on the art scene,” she added. “More people are knowing who we are because of the street project, the [downtown] banners, and what the arts are doing to enhance the area and its economics.”

City officials have discussed installing murals in Maquoketa for quite some time, but the expense prohibited it, Kilburg said. The average mural of this size costs $15,000 to $20,000, she added.

Kilburg teamed up with Jackson County Economic Development Director Nic Hockenberry to find funding sources for the project. They paired with East Central Intergovernmental Association to take advantage of a partnership with the University of Iowa Office of Outreach and Engagement and students who completed the Grant Wood Public Art Residency. Four of these students are designing and painting murals in Clarence, Lowden, Mechanicsville, Stanwood, Tipton, West Branch, Iowa City, Keokuk and Webster City. 

The mural projects not only help beautify the spaces in which they reside, but they boost the sense of place, community, and cultural vitality, according to Maura Pilcher, Grant Wood Art Colony director who is coordinating the public art projects for the Office of Outreach and Engagement.

“Our goal is to take the university’s resources — faculty, staff, and students — to the people of Iowa,” Pilcher said. “While some of our students have years of experience in public art projects, others are still learning under the close direction of University of Iowa faculty and staff. These students enter communities with fresh eyes, recognizing assets while appreciating local history and culture. 

“Through conversations and research, the artist develops design concepts from which a steering committee may choose. The artist then creates a mural to celebrate the community. Each process and product is as unique as the people and places that shape them,” Pilcher said.

The mural steering committee coordinated efforts with Pilcher then hosted a public brainstorming session so community members could suggest ideas for the art piece. Suggestions included:

Music: The neighboring greenspace is often used for music, or other art themes

Local natural resources: Maquoketa Caves, wildlife, portrait of Maquoketa landscape, rolling hills and farm fields, the seasons

Community: Unity, strength, clubs and churches, multiple cultures

Uniqueness: Phonetic spelling of Maquoketa, 61 Drive-In Theatre, and other one-of-a-kind themes

Deep history: Lime kilns, Clinton Engines, industrial development/growth

Artist Drew Etienne will design and paint the mural.

“Drew comes to our community with no biases and a fresh face, a fresh outlook,” Kilburg said. “He’ll come to us with three sketches, and the steering committee will make the decision.”

After the committee selects the mural, Etienne will apply a specialized, breathable paint to the brick. The paint has ultraviolet protect to prolong its durability. 

Kilburg said outdoor murals typically last between 15 and 20 years. 

“… because outdoor art shouldn’t last forever,” she said. “It’s ever-progressing, like our community.”

Local donations, fundraising, and grants will fund the mural project.

Committee members hope the project will begin July 15 and expect it to be completed by the beginning of August.

Mural Steering Committee members are Kilburg, Lexi Biehl, David Heiar, Jessica Kean, Brooke Taylor and Bob Wagener.

The Office of Outreach and Engagement has an established relationship with Maquoketa. In 2016-18, ECIA was an Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) partner. As such, Maquoketa welcomed faculty and student resources into their community to lead various projects, including Layers of Maquoketa and various branding and marketing studies.