Catherine Widgery commissioned for public art in Student Innovation Center

Catherine Widgery was commissioned to create the public artwork for Iowa State’s Student Innovation Center, which is slated for completion in 2020.

Melanie.Van Horn.Com

Innovation occurs every day at a research university like Iowa State. But an upcoming Art in State Buildings project will characterize innovation in all disciplines, and one woman will be at the heart of Iowa State’s most ambitious public work of art. 

Catherine Widgery was commissioned to create the public artwork for Iowa State’s Student Innovation Center, which is slated for completion in 2020.

Widgery’s commissioning signifies the largest public art commission given to a female artist in Iowa State’s history. A reception at Morrill Hall on Wednesday allowed the Iowa State community to engage with Widgery and share input on their vision for the center’s public art. 

“What we liked was not only [Widgery’s] willingness but her ability to intellectually partner with us,” said Lynette Pohlman, director of University Museums and the Art on Campus collection. “She’s here to communicate with the public.” 

Ingrid Lilligren, chair of the department of Art and Visual Culture in the College of Design, said Widgery’s selection demonstrates a push to show change on campus.

“We didn’t set out to choose a woman,” Lilligren said. “We chose the best person for the job.”

Lilligren also said an integral part of the process was including diverse voices and viewpoints to ensure nothing and no one was left out.  

A committee composed of students and faculty from each of Iowa State’s colleges selected Widgery. The multidisciplinary committee allowed for all areas to provide input into how innovation would be communicated through the public artwork. 

Lilligren said that Widgery’s research in materials and uniqueness among her own body of public artwork made her the committee’s first choice.

Widgery’s sense of Iowa State’s history of art on campus will allow her “to respond in a way that is intelligent, playful and insightful,” Lilligren said. 

“Her excitement has to do with the opportunity to work with scientists and researchers, and to merge the arts and sciences,” Lilligren said. 

The center will provide an opportunity for students from all disciplines to work together collaboratively, said Erin O’Malley, campus outreach coordinator for University Museums. With an open floor plan and lab spaces for glassblowing, metalworking and other student organizations, O’Malley said the center’s goal will be to grow and change as technology changes. 

Jasmine Rahimi, senior in management information systems, was invited by her adviser to participate in the planning committee last spring. She was unsure of what to expect from the experience, but was surprised at how hands-on the process was. 

“When we first met, we were asked to think about innovation and what it meant for us,” Rahimi said. “We all contributed to a Google Doc with our own ideas and meshed them together to make one statement.”  

That statement was used as guidance when the time came to select Widgery as the public artist. 

Though Rahimi will graduate before the building’s completion, she is excited to see how the artwork turns out and believes she has contributed to future generations of Iowa State students. 

“I really feel like I’m leaving something to the school when I go,” she said. “Iowa State was very traditional, but it’s so different now, so I think it represents a change from a closed Midwestern perspective to more international influences.”