Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Ali Hval (MFA 2019) won the 2019 Student Excellence and Service Award from the Office of Community Engagement for her dedicated community engagement work on public art projects throughout Iowa.

Hval began painting public art murals in the summer of 2017 when a friend working with the Office of Community Engagement invited her to join as an extra helping hand with a mural project. Hval's friend had to bow out, and she stepped up to become the leading artist on the project.

"I had always been interested in the idea of public art, but I never knew I would be able to do something like that," Hval said.

The support and resources she received from the Office of Community Engagement enabled her to successfully collaborate with six different Iowa communities, from project initiation through completion. 

"I love the energy and support that comes from the public as a mural goes up. Even before the actual painting process, I'm always floored by how much support a mural receives in the community and how much interest it generates. Between site visits and getting permission from the city and business owners to use a space, it takes a lot to get a public art project going, and it isn't just as simple as deciding something pretty to paint on a blank wall," Hval said.

In Spring 2019, she was among the first Grant Wood Art Colony's public art residents at the University of Iowa, joining eight other students.

The residents learned the practice, history, and theory surrounding public art projects from accomplished artists Vero Rose Smith and Thomas Agran. Some key takeaways were strategies for engaging with communities and practical skills for implementing murals. 

Hval appreciates the many interactions associated with a public art project and the power it has to impact a community and its surroundings.

"I make many connections along the way to help facilitate the process and meet many wonderful, inspiring people within the community. Murals are important for a community's morale and pride, and the end product always shows that. They clean up a space and make it more inviting, creating a point of attraction for a place that may have otherwise remained unwelcoming or unattractive. They also highlight or emphasize specific points about a community that make it different from the rest, and that's one thing I've learned about doing murals from place to place: tailored to a community and the architecture of the space in which they exist. So I believe visiting that site and getting to know the people in a place is a vital component to creating public art," Hval said.

While creating public art in a community, Hval recognizes her role as a public figure. However, her connection to the community doesn't stop when she leaves. She continues interacting with the public through social media long after painting. 

"It's rewarding to see people interacting with art, especially outside the typical white-walled gallery context," Hval said. "When I'm working on a mural, I witness people near the site, but once I'm gone, I don't know what that is anymore. Seeing people tag me or putting the city location up on Instagram and other social media platforms is only a percentage of people who have interacted with the work and documented it. It's exciting and fulfilling to know that many people will see my work for years."