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Sculpture Park Energizes Des Moines

Pappajohn Sculpture Park (Photo: Des Moines Art Center)

A new sculpture park on the outskirts of downtown Des Moines is changing the face of this Iowa city. The New York Times ran a story in their Real Estate section on Des Moines, making substantial mention of the park:

At the center of the Western Gateway neighborhood is a 4.4-acre public park and sculpture garden, with 24 works by Ugo Rondinone, Louise Bourgeois and Deborah Butterfield, among others. The sculptures, valued at some $40 million, were a gift from John and Mary Pappajohn, two local art collectors and benefactors. Jeff Fleming, the director of the Des Moines Art Center, played a central role in grouping the sculptures into “rooms” flanked by an undulating landscape of berms, trees, walkways and grass that was paid for by the city and private donors.

Among the businesses that have settled near the sculpture park is the Des Moines Social Club, a combination art gallery, theater, bar and education center that has enlivened the city’s night life. It is run by Zachary Mannheimer, a theater producer and director from New York who moved to Des Moines after visiting some 20 cities to find a building suitable for his multifaceted entertainment concept. Mr. Mannheimer leases a 30,000-square-foot building on Locust Street that was built in 1919 and operated as a Cadillac dealership. He is trying to raise $4 million to buy and renovate the structure. “We serve as a public house for those who have explored the park and then wish to discuss the work,” Mr. Mannheimer said.

Like almost everything else connected to downtown construction, the park displaying the Pappajohns’ donation was built with unusual speed, about two and a half years from conception to completion. “It’s a wonderful example of what this city can do,” said Mr. Southwell, the Wellmark executive. “The park has been a real magnet. It’s much more popular than what people originally thought it might be.”

That’s a business executive talking. Again we’re learning about another park that has enticed development and cultivation of the arts, not to mention a space that will draw tourists in a city not known for its drawing of visitors. (A previous Times travel section article headlined that “a sculpture garden energizes Des Moines.”) And this is another example of a city creating a central and signature park for public art. The Des Moines Register also has a series of videos and pictures showing the development of the park and interviews with the Pappajohns.

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