Painting the Walls of Des Moines

Photos by Anna Steenson

Graffiti writing and mural paintings are coloring in the empty walls of Des Moines, Iowa. Taking art out of the museums and into the streets has placed Des Moines on the map. With famous murals such as Van Holmgren’s mural featured on The Bachelor, local artists are being recognized beyond the Midwest. In 2018, Des Moines was recognized as one of “America’s most artistic towns” by Expedia.

Prairie Meadows Courtyard – The Des Moines Social Club

These murals and graffiti are more than Instagram stories and senior photo backgrounds, says Katie Ortman, Program and Outreach Director of the Des Moines Social Club. It is about “creating a kind of creative urban environment that attracts young people and makes people interested in exploring and walking around to find public art.” The Des Moines Social Club’s outdoor Prairie Meadows Courtyard hosts an annual live graffiti-writing exposition that features local and national graffiti writers.

The Des Moines Social Club Prairie Meadows Courtyard, 900 Mulberry St, Des Moines, IA

Des Moines Wall Project

Liz Lidgett, C.E.O. of Adore Your Walls, saw the potential in Des Moines’ walls after traveling to large cities known for their public art. “I thought Des Moines is just as great as any of those places, and I think that we should have the same level of street art. So we decided to create the Des Moines Wall Project to facilitate those murals that weren’t happening otherwise.” The Des Moines Wall Project pairs local businesses with local artists to create murals focusing on “things they love about Des Moines,” Lidgett says. Their projects have included the patchwork of murals featured on the RoCA building, a mural on Exile Brewery, and others scattered throughout town.

Local artists

Des Moines has come alive with vibrant public art.  With summer coming and the temperature warming, artists are continuing to leave their mark on Des Moines. Mural artist Van Holmgren uses bright spray paint in his murals. “Bright colors are eye-catching, and I like playing with the vibrations that colors have with each other,” Holmgren says.