River Monster art project crawls into Iowa City


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Iowa City has a visitor coming to town today — a very large, inflated visitor with pink tentacles. The Muscatine River Monster (also known as the Kraken) will spend this weekend waving its tentacles at passersby on the Pedestrian Mall.

People can find the monster protruding from the second-floor windows of the building that once housed Vito's, 118 E. College St., today through Saturday.

"I've seen other people do tentacles, and what we decided to do was to use this inflatable sculpture to try to tell a story about creators in the Midwest," said the project's designer, Andrew Anderson.

A Muscatine native, he designed the art installation after hearing a story about the Muscatine river monster. According to legend, the monster first appeared in the Mississippi River around 1838, and it is said to return during times of growth and success in the city.

"It has been coming and visiting the Midwest," Anderson said. "And it means really good things for the places it visits."

Anderson wants his art project to impress observers visually, but he also wants to leave an impression about opportunities to create art in the Midwest. After growing up in Muscatine, then leaving for around 10 years to travel to places around the world such as Istanbul, Turkey, he returned to his Iowa roots to prove that art can flourish here.

"A lot of people think they have to go to the coasts to produce art, but this is a way for me to help people see that the Midwest can be a really great place for creative people," he said.

For Anderson, bringing the exhibit to Iowa City was not a question.

"There are quite a few people in Iowa City who understand that if you can cultivate a creative atmosphere, then you can make a downtown area work," he said.

The Moen Group will sponsor the installation of the river monster and will house the art piece at the former Vito's building, which is being rebuilt into retail and office space.

"Public art is a big deal — it helps identify the community and gives people a sense of pride," Marc Moen said. "To me, this project just seems kind of fun."

The support for the arts by locals such as Moen is something that Anderson and other community members agree is valuable for the growth of art in Iowa City.

"It's really exciting to see when private organizations or individuals decide to do these installations, because that's what a community is all about," said Marcia Bollinger, Iowa City's public-art coordinator.

After this weekend's display, on Oct. 28, the art piece will be installed at the UI Natural History Museum.

Since his success with the Kraken, Anderson continues to spread the importance of art by providing classes, workshops, spectacles, and street performances with the help of other local artists.

"Really, what I want people to come away with is to pursue their own creative interests," Anderson said. "They should follow those interests even if it seems wild and crazy."

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