August 31, 2021

As we re-imagine our relationship to our creeks and rivers through ICON, so too will we reimagine the role of the arts in our community.

In 2020 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded a grant to our region for Shoreline Signals. Shoreline Signals will use public art to educate new and current users on water safety creating a welcoming space that signals when to engage with the rivers.

This prestigious and competitive grant was successful because Shoreline Signals positions public art as essential to planning and development and champions art as a tool for problem-solving, innovative education and outreach, and cultural celebration by helping communities focus on public art as activation rather than as simply a sculpture, a mural or an installation.

As a professional practice, public art has become more complex, process-oriented, collaborative, and experimental. Artists of all disciplines wish to engage and enhance our communities in new ways, creatively addressing a community’s needs as identified by its citizens and stakeholders. Such needs may include the environment, community health, cultural diversity, youth development, and attracting tourists.  The best public art contributes to a sense of place, opens a process to see anew and generates transformation in experience and perception.

Shoreline Signals serves as a key feature of ICON connecting residents and visitors of Greater Des Moines to the quality and potential of its water, enhancing our cultural community and serving as a catalyst for economic development and tourism.

The current concept under consideration for Shoreline Signals is Heads Up, a twelve-foot duck that happily floats with its head down as if feeding when conditions are good and brings its head up when water levels are too high and deserve caution.  This whimsical piece of public art will transform how we connect with our rivers. Average citizens will have a way to tune in to our dynamic river system, a way to pay attention. Is the duck’s head up today?

Shoreline Signals will offer a shared experience in our community, connecting any citizen that views it to our river while generating a new form of dialog, sparking conversations rarely had before, all while transforming a place known as dangerous into a place of playfulness even for those that will never dip a toe in the water. This work of art shall help us recognize something shared, citizenship to a river-town.

About the Author: Teva Dawson is the founder and owner of Group Creatives. Teva began her career path as Des Moines first community garden coordinator for Des Moines Parks & Recreation, culminated her 20 years as a civil servant with spearheading Greater Des Moines’ first Water Trails and Greenways Plan with the Des Moines Area MPO and founded Group Creatives to spur innovation with local governments to achieve civic goals through the arts.

This project is supported by Polk County, Bravo of Greater Des Moines, Iowa Arts Council and ICON Water Trails.