Sinclair: Continue to support Iowa State’s commitment to public art


Emily Blobaum/Iowa State Daily

‘Carom,’ a sculpture by Bruce White, is located just east of Black Engineering Building. 

Isaac Sinclair

I am fortunate enough to go to a university that is literally drowning in art. Art is so deeply incorporated into the Iowa State campus that I find myself constantly discovering new pieces around campus. Sometimes, I find myself noticing pieces I must have walked by every day but then missed because of how integrated they are into the campus.

Everyone who has walked through Iowa State has seen the university’s commitment to the arts and maintaining a beautiful campus. Christian Petersen was the first artist-in-residency at an American college, Iowa State, and he profoundly impacted the aesthetic of Iowa State. His work covers almost the entire campus. From the Three Athletes at State Gym to the the Fountain of the Four Seasons in front of the Memorial Union, his influence is evident across campus.

Art can transform the entire look of a community. By filling otherwise blank walls and empty grass spots with art, Iowa State has beautified its entire campus. This not only improves the appearance of the university, but it also provides Iowa State with a unique selling point. The abundance of art could be another reason a potential student or professor would come to Iowa State. I know it has made me feel more comfortable and at home, especially as my time here in Ames has passed.

Some of my favorite pieces, like Carom by Bruce White, are the ones I had to find myself. I remember walking up to the Carom for the first time and, as it slowly came into view, being intrigued by this strange blue sculpture that had just materialized in front of me. It remains one of my favorite pieces across campus because I stumbled upon it on my own, and because of its immediate ability to grab my attention.

But besides providing a pretty face for the university, and being enjoyable for someone like myself who enjoys art, what is the purpose of all this public art? It’s available to the public for free but costs money to create and maintain, so what is the purpose of it on campus?

Art has no explicit purpose, and as cliché as that sounds, it’s true. Art can be almost anything, like a painting or a sculpture, and every artist imagines art as something entirely unique to them.

But I believe that art does do one thing universally: It is meant to evoke a response.

A response can be anything from a feeling to a memory or an opinion. It can challenge how we see the world and what we believe about the world around us. Art can inspire people or make them laugh. It has no expressed purpose. Its purpose is malleable depending on the artist, and more importantly, the person taking in the art.

It’s my opinion that it is worth evoking multiple responses from multiple people. When I discovered Carom, it evoked a response from me — one of intrigue. That, and other responses, are why art is so potent.

By surrounding our campus with art, people are constantly giving and receiving responses to the environment around them. Not only does this make people more engaged with their surroundings, but “a higher frequency of engagement with arts and culture is generally associated with a higher level of subjective well-being,” according to Arts Council England.  

Besides the beauty and unique features that art brings to the university, it also can bring a community together. It has been shown that “participation in the arts can contribute to community cohesion, reduce social exclusion and isolation, and/or make communities feel safer and stronger,” according to Arts Council England. I’d argue that everyone who walks through Iowa State is able to participate in the arts by simply interacting with the art around campus. This brings our community closer together through these common, shared experiences with the art that surrounds us.

As a community, we should continue to fund and promote the arts across campus. There is so much beauty and well-being that comes from art that we cannot afford to lose. Iowa State has already done so much for its students, faculty and the people of Ames in terms of art, and we should all appreciate that effort and continue to support it.