Down the Road Le Mars: Downtown Art Projects

We are headed "down the road" this week to Le Mars, Iowa where the Plymouth County Fair started today and runs through Sunday. Le Mars is well known as the "Ice Cream Capital of the World" thanks to Wells Enterprises and its Blue Bunny ice cream. But the city of about 10-thousand is also gaining a reputation as the home of some unique, art projects. Probably the best known at this point is the 56, painted, fiberglass snow cones that dot the community. Starting in 2010, businesses sponsored the six-foot tall, fiberglass sculptures, with artists from the area adding their touch. They've become quite a tourist attraction, and there's even a map to help find them all. This was just the first of a number of unique, public art initiatives that are taking place in Le Mars. The others can be seen all over town, and one of them takes you into some areas most people try to avoid. Le Mars artist Harry Gray is spending his summer painting the outside wall of the fire station to reflect the department's history, and its iconic 1928 pumper truck The mural is worked out in scale and color tones in his studio, then brought to the site in his trusty "bible."

"The whole goal from the greys is that when I come down here and then climb up on the ladder and the scaffolding I take a lot of the thinking out of it... I'm just up there mechanically doing the work, doing the physical stuff," said Grey

The mural is just one of the art projects partnered by the city of Le mars, the Le Mars Art Center and the Mainstreet program of the Le Mars Chamber. In many cities alleys can be a garbage and graffiti filled mess. But here in Le Mars they are a palette for an artist's imagination.

During the next few years nine alleys in town will eventually become walking galleries of outdoor art. "Any building that's been painted before we can put on a vivid color. But otherwise we put on an MVO that is painted. It's an outdoor board that can sustain the weather. And that's what we'll use when it's a natural, brick building," said the Camber of Commerce Mainstreet Manager Mary Reynolds. Private donations pay for everything. And so far 20-thousand dollars has been raised, and that could top 150-thousand eventually. "We will hire artists all over the Midwest area," said Reynolds. "So, if you're out there and you'd like to paint something for us. We will commission you and pay you a fee and visit about the design, but we're looking for artists from all over with different aspects." For Gray, creating his own hometown 'master pieces' is very fulfilling. But the interaction with with people, some who've come nearly every day, is priceless.