Inspired by the way murals told the story of the town during a trip to Alaska about 10 years ago, Cedar Rapids’ own Bob and Lynn Ocken decided to bring the art-forward concept back to their community. Today, Murals & More inspires locals with its public arts projects, decorating the city with endless color and beauty. Here, Nick Ludwig and Molly Monk, co-chairs, discuss Murals & More’s newest project and its can’t-miss fall fundraising event.
What is the mission of Murals & More? Murals & More, The Cedar Rapids Mural Trail, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to utilizing local architecture as the backdrop for public art in Cedar Rapids. We connect artists with space for them to create and inspire. We believe in the power of art that is accessible to all, fostering a sense of belonging and opportunity for thought, contributing to our community’s identity and sense of place, enriching cultural vibrancy as a reflection of our community and the people who live here.
What prompted the start of the nonprofit? The idea of creating a “trail of murals” began when two Cedar Rapidians, Bob and Lynn Ocken, were visiting the small town of Seward, Alaska. They discovered various murals telling the story of the town, its people and culture. As they wandered from mural to mural, they became fascinated with the possibilities this concept could bring to the Cedar Rapids community, particularly after the devastation of the 2008 flood. The first mural was unveiled in May 2012 in Downtown Cedar Rapids.
What is the greatest reward in being involved with the nonprofit? We often say “Above all, art for all” as a rallying cry when describing our mission. Public art is one way for an artist to inspire a lot of people, sometimes in ways that are very subtle. Any public art project becomes a shared asset for the community, and when at its best, may serve as a powerful influence toward improved social cohesion, helping people feel connected to a place, or presenting diverse viewpoints that some may not have otherwise been exposed to. It is really rewarding to see a project from start to finish, knowing that our group plays a role in giving artists a public platform.
What is the biggest challenge the nonprofit faces? There are three things needed for a public art project to come together: 1) a wall or a space with unique ownership who is willing to let an artist freely create, 2) funding and 3) an artist who wants to create something special. We’ve never had a problem finding phenomenal artists. Everyone on our board is a volunteer, which means each person is involved because they believe in the mission and they care about the community. That being said, it is a lot of coordination and planning to see a project through.
What is the community response to the artists’ finished works? The community has been very supportive, shown by continued investment in our organization and the sidebar conversations about what a piece means to them. There is a wide range of appreciation. We’ve heard stories about people who derive deep meaning from a particular project, while I’m sure there are others who may walk by an installation dozens of times without paying much attention. Either way, we hold the belief that our work lifts up the community as a whole
What are your goals for the remainder of 2023? We’re always planning for the next project. This fall, we’re working on a mural at Sacred Cow Tavern in Cedar Rapids.
How can readers help? To start, go see the art! The City of Cedar Rapids put together a self-guided Downtown Art Tour to get you started. Many projects coordinated by Murals & More are included on the route. If you agree that public art does a lot of good in our community, sign-up for our newsletter or donate at our website crmurals.org.
Does Murals & More have any events or fundraisers on the horizon? Join us for our annual fundraiser The Crunch Berry Run, a family-friendly color fun run/walk held Sept. 16 at NewBo City Market! Grab a spoon and bring the family for this once-a-year color fun run. Go the distance that is right for you, up to a full 5K, as you run, walk, dance or skip through the route, full of surprises, and Crunch Berries waiting at the finish line. All proceeds support public art in Cedar Rapids. Register now at crunchberryrun.com.
Top of page photo credit: Fragments by NEVERCREW