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Downtown DSM Offers a Space Unlike Any Other Park in the Country

Downtown DSM Offers a Space Unlike Any Other Park in the Country

November 8, 2017

One of the things that makes Downtown Des Moines (DSM) most unique is its various beautiful outdoor spaces. From the winding Riverwalk to the sprawling grounds of the Capitol building, one of the most impressive outdoor spaces, I think, is the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park.

Located in Downtown Des Moines’ Western Gateway, the 4.4 acre Pappajohn Sculpture Park offers a space for art and community to come together. Whether you’re an art connoisseur or an outdoor enthusiast, there’s something for everyone to discover in this unique space.

Pappajohn Sculpture Park History

The Pappajohn Sculpture Park opened to visitors in September 2009 and features artwork by 22 of the world’s most celebrated artists. Long-time DSM residents may even remember seeing some of the sculptures that now reside in the park outside of the John and Mary Pappajohn’s home. When plans for the new park began, the Pappajohns made the decision to donate the 28 sculptures that comprise the park’s collection in what remains the most signification donation of artwork ever made to the Des Moines Art Center.

Collection of Art

The park’s collection reflects an international cross section of figurative, gestural, and architectonic approaches to outdoor art. Many visitors are drawn to the towering Nomade by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, a crouching figure constructed by using letters as building blocks. Others are mesmerized by the whirling rainbow colors of Panoramic Awareness Pavilion by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. In this case, the artist envisions the sculpture park as an ocean with waves where the lantern’s light can be used like a lighthouse for orientation and guidance. Others still are enamored with Yoshitomo Nara’s White Ghost, a contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional Buddhist guardian lions.

The collection of unique sculptures sits on 4.4 acres of land designed by New York-based architects Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas to provide scale and multiple perspectives between the viewer and the sculpture through topographic “waves” that elevate the urban landscape. This accessible setting, coupled with the caliber of the public art, makes this space unlike any other sculpture park in the United States.

Within walking distance of award-winning restaurants, the park is situated in the ever-changing heart of Downtown Des Moines. Since the park opened eight years ago, the city has continued to change and so has the community’s interaction with the space.

Embraced by the DSM USA Community

Personally, one of my favorite aspects of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park is the entirely unexpected ways it is used by the Des Moines community. From Pokémon GO players flocking to the park to try to “catch ‘em all”, to workers from Downtown office buildings taking a quiet moment to enjoy their lunch outdoors, there are always people enjoying the space from a unique perspective. Throughout the year the area surrounding is transformed by street festivals of all kinds. In the warmer months, food trucks congregate along the park’s perimeter, and each June, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park seamlessly flows into the Des Moines Arts Festival.

The changing seasons and time of day also transform the outdoor space in new ways. As the leaves change and snow begins to fall, each of the sculptures take on inspiring new forms. And as the sun sets, the park is transformed as the sculptures are illuminated against the city skyline.

The Des Moines Art Center offers free docent-led tours of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park from April through October as well as twice monthly drop-in tours of the works of art. There’s also a free cell phone tour anytime by dialing (515) 657-8264.

The Western Gateway is an exciting zone of urban development and neighborhood rebirth, anchored around its beautiful park. To learn more about Downtown DSM’s neighborhoods, click here.