What are they building in there?

The Fourth Annual South Des Moines Art Festival

September 22, 2012

The Fourth Annual South Des Moines Art Festival is Saturday, Sept. 22 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the South Des Moines Sculpture Park on the city’s Southside. The family-friendly event will feature 20 local art vendors, kids activities, live art demos, including a pottery wheel, airbrush art, ice sculpture, plus great food. New this year is the Nathan Weeks Middle School student art exhibits. The event is free with free parking at First American Bank.


Interview by guest contributor Lori Brookhart - Schervish

September 14, 2012

What does the South Des Moines Sculpture Park have that the other sculpture park doesn’t? Well a giant clothespin for starters. Not to mention the pièce de résistance of this year’s annual festival: the alien egg. This multi-media sculpture has a few surprises in store for visitors, which sounds a lot like the original War of the Worlds. There are no multi-million dollar price tags, but a priceless vision of two men happy to give back to their community.

The South Des Moines Sculpture Park’s installations reside on a corner lot of SW 8th and McKinley – just one block east of SW 9th — where the bold and colorful artworks reminiscent of Alexander Calder, Claus Oldenburg, and Jasper Johns can’t be missed. The giant clothespin, Calder-esque mobile, and oversized target are just a few of the sculptures juxtaposed against the constant flow of two-lane traffic nestled in an aging neighborhood. Founders and sculptors Phil Barber and Chuck Mettler are a testament that public art is truly for the people, by the people.

“This is a recycled project – a cultural green space — and people really like it, especially the neighbors,” says Barber, who bought the land with Mettler about five years ago, which was just an empty lot collecting trash. “And knock on wood it hasn’t been vandalized and people have been respectful of it. They stop and take wedding photos, it’s been great to see.”

Thanks to the Abraham Lincoln High School alums, the South Des Moines Sculpture Park has become a landmark on the Southside. Both have contributed works to the park, and with the help of apprentice Brant Moon seem to be tackling bigger and bolder projects. They’ve also welcomed other artists’ works and encourage local sculptors to contact them about contributing installations.

Although the festival is not officially included in this year’s ArtStop, it runs on the same weekend and is getting some attention from ArtStop organizers to help spread the word. Barber and Mettler are hopeful that the sculpture park will be included as an ArtStop destination next year.

“We’d like to take this from a South Des Moines festival and branch out with city-wide exposure,” said Mettler, a former student at the Art Institute of Chicago.

This year’s event will celebrate and feature student works for the first time and aims to raise money to establish a high school senior arts scholarship. Donations will be accepted at the festival to contribute to the fund. Barber is also exploring how to incorporate performance art in the future.

Restoring Southside Pride

The sculpture park’s home is in the same neighborhood that watched the once-bustling business district of SW 9th give way to abandoned buildings and disappeared patrons. The same Southside that not long ago thrived as the heartbeat of this city. Growing up, there was community, business, expansion, and promise. As an adult, I watched as this district dilapidated a little more with each visit home from my new life in California.

Then I drove down McKinley one day as I’ve done thousands of times in my life and there it was: ART. It was a poignant and deliberate expression — a manifestation of the creative process that celebrated the extraordinary amidst the mundane. The very essence of art. I had goose bumps imagining the residents and people in their cars that have never taken notice of such art. And yet here it was, right here for them, with no apologies, no explanation, no excuses, in a welcoming barrage of shapes and colors.

Barber and Mettler have turned on a light for the next generation of budding artists, critical thinkers, innovative engineers, and future organizers -– provoking a reincarnation of Southside pride.

A writer and editor, Lori covered the Des Moines music scene before venturing out to Los Angeles. She continued to write about music but quickly fell in love with the vibrant art scene after being exposed to a diversity of painters, sculptors, and muralists and the creative energy of Venice Beach. After a series of events, Lori moved back to Des Moines after graduating from Mizzou with a journalism degree and a minor in art history. Her favorite artists include Frida Kahlo, Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore, Tarsila do Amaral, and Henri Matisse. 

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Art Beacon hosts critical discussions on contemporary art in Des Moines, Iowa. We review new art exhibitions, interview artists, and share art from around the world. Art Beacon maintains the most comprehensive art event calendar in Iowa.