By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio
Passersby can see the colorful “Future” mural on the north side of the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families in downtown Des Moines. It was created in honor of Davis’ legacy and the legacy of J. Barry Griswell, the former president of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, which commissioned the piece.
Artist and advocate Jill Wells designed the mural, which features a diverse group of people facing the word “future” in all capital letters. She said she wanted to remind Iowa about its diversity.
“Diversity, I think, is key, because it’s our truth and our reality, when we look at the community that we live in, and our global universal kind of community, that is who we are,” Wells said at the mural dedication ceremony Friday.
Wells said she hopes people see the public art installment as an example of how to heal from trying times.
“It’s kind of like a call to still remember to kind of come back together, and that it doesn’t have to be a physical thing. But, there’s an importance to that,” Wells said.
She had the assistance of Marissa Hernandez, a fellow artist of color and Drake University alumna. Both of the women had applied for the opportunity to design the art piece. When Wells received the honor, she said she immediately asked Hernandez to “come on board.”
“I hope for any other woman of color, or women, individuals who identify like that, they don’t give up on their own dreams,” Wells said. “It’s kind of unique, the experience for her and I. It’s not the statistical norm.”
They began painting the first week of April. Hernandez did much of the background and foliage on the mural.
She said growing up in Des Moines and then Altoona, she wasn’t exposed to much diversity or successful people who looked like her. She wanted the people depicted in the mural to be representative of Iowa’s populations and “let them know that they’re loved here.”
“Growing up, you don’t really see a lot of artists in general. And then the artists that you do see succeed are mostly white and are mostly male,” Hernandez explained. “And it’s really important to me to be that person I needed when I was younger and show kids that they don’t have to change who they are to…I don’t know, succeed or exist.”
As for Wells, she teared up when talking about one of the lessons she learned throughout the process. She said many people experiencing homelessness approached her while she painted and shared their own stories. Since the project is done, she acknowledged she won’t see them as much as she used to, and she’ll miss talking with them.
“It was just like such a beautiful experience. And they would share with us what they’re doing for the day. And there’s something there for me that I learned. I don’t know what it means, but I want to pursue it in some way, shape, or form, not only with my art, but my advocacy work,” Wells said.
Several speakers shared their stories about the impact Davis and Griswell had on their lives at the dedication ceremony. They included Dr. Ahmed Agyeman, the Evelyn K. Davis Center’s director, Rob Denson, president of Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), Dr. Richard Deming, board chair of the Community Foundation, Kristi Knous, the Community Foundation president, Bobbretta Brewton, from the Davis Center’s advisory board and Mary Chapman, the vice president, Emeritus of DMACC.
Going forward, Hernandez said she wants to continue offering free, public art to the masses.