Downtown Des Moines’ historic East Village is home to great restaurants, bars, attractions, year-round events, and entertainment. One feature that people often catch glimpses of only in passing is the color selections of public artwork that decorate the sides of buildings in the East Village and Capitol Complex areas. For a slower pace and a closer look at these vibrant works check out the tour we’ve put together. As a fun challenge, see what other public art installments you can spy along the way - hint - many public bike racks serve a dual purpose as art sculpture pieces along this route.
The mural “No Action Too Small” is positioned at 300 E Locust St. and incorporates many everyday items into the painting such as glass and plastic containers. Artist Chris Vance used recycled paint for the mural and also recycled the spray paint cans used in the process. The mural appears on the side of the Metro Waste Authority building, and the concept came from collaborations between the MWA staff and Vance.
Coffee Break Option
Two doors down from this stop is Scenic Route Bakery, an excellent stop for a bakery treat, lunch, or a coffee or espresso drink to fuel your almost mile-long walking urban art tour.
The next urban art spot appears to be untitled. This kitschy retro happy hour themed comic book style artwork is positioned adjacent to the AC Hotel by Marriott and runs downward from street level towards a basement level gated parking area. This spot is tucked in between two taller buildings so it can be hard to detect depending on the direction you are walking. It is located just South of the corner of E 4th St. and Grand Ave. Watch for traffic entering from the street.
Option Pop across the street from mural for a meal at Zombie Burger + Drink Lab. This is the place to try if you have a desire for a burger served on a bun made from mac n’ cheese or an urge to try spiked milkshakes made with flavored liquors like fruit cereal-flavored vodka (adults only, regular milkshakes also available).
Spring All Year
“Garden of Blessings” is a vibrant work that appears on the side of the building that houses Antheia - The Flower Galleria, in the alleyway. Artist Patrick Faris described this mural as being representative of the concept of coexistence and what he sees as the nature of the East Village neighborhood. "Garden of Blessings" is located at 412 E 5th Street.
Shopping Break Option
Cross 5th Street to visit Raygun. Raygun is a great shop for finding unique Iowa branded items as well as pop culture-centric gear.
99 Counties Mosaic
The Iowa Counties Mosaic appears in front of the State Capitol Complex located at 401 Pennsylvania Avenue. All of Iowa’s 99 counties are on display in the masonry, and the surrounding area is park-like with a picturesque view of the golden dome of the Iowa State Capitol Building in the background.
Culture Break Option
Across the street from the 99 Counties Mosaic, at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Locust Street, is the State Historical Museum of Iowa. The Museum features exhibits such as Iowa History 101, The Civil War, Hollywood in the Heartland about Iowa’s silver screen daughters and sons, the infamous mammoth, and many more exhibits. If you have plenty of time, the museum exhibits are worth a visit. If you just have a short period of time, the exterior of the museum features a couple of interesting sculptures that are on public display and free to view. Download the Iowa Culture App to find these and other Iowa historic artworks across the state.
The mural “Sarah and Leland, Reunited with Bees” was completed in 2011 by artist Frank Hansen and is located at 808 E Des Moines Street, at the Northeast corner of the Des Moines Street and Pennsylvania Avenue intersection. Hansen calls this style of art emotional realism, a style he frequently uses in his own artwork. The idea is that art isn’t always pretty, that sometimes art can depict things that are gross. The mural is very colorful and has many small details to take in as viewers think on Hansen’s perspectives. This mural does appear on the side of an apartment building so be sure not to block driveways or disturb residents as you enjoy the artwork.
Happy Hour Option
Close the loop on this walking tour by heading back west down Des Moines Street. At the corner of Des Moines Street and E 6th Street is Alba. Alba is an American style restaurant and wine bar that offers a wide selection of dining options as well as drink specials.
Image credit: Travel Iowa