Artistic alley project kicking off in Marion

One of the public art projects set for the ImaginArt in the Alleys project in Marion.  A...
One of the public art projects set for the ImaginArt in the Alleys project in Marion. A national $350,000 grant is paying for public art as part of a transformation of an alley off 7th Avenue.(KCRG)
Published: Apr. 22, 2016 at 4:57 PM CDT
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Colorful, artistic and stuck back in an alley. That describes the ImaginArt in the Alley plan that begins in Marion on Saturday with a groundbreaking ceremony.

The idea is to brighten up and change a one-block-long alley between 10th and 11th Streets in Marion. The alley beautification project will focus on an alley that runs behind businesses along 7th Avenue.

Karen Hoyt, art director for the project, said you have to use your imagine now to visualize what it will all look like when finished. But she thinks it will literally transform the look of that part of downtown Marion by making back entrances to those stores as inviting as the front.

“Thank goodness for our city council, they voted unanimously to underground these utilities, clear away the overhead clutter,” Hoyt said.

The project won a national grant from ArtPlace America in 2014 to provide $350,000 in money to purchase public art. Currently, plans call for nine public art pieces to go up in that alley.

And there’s a practical as well as an artistic reason for the project. In several years, Marion will embark on a streetscape project that will require closing sections of 7th Avenue, and even sidewalks in front of some stores, for a time. The idea is if the back entrances to those stores become an attractive option for customers to use then closing the front won’t be as drastic a blow to business.

Michael Barkalow, assistant Marion city engineer, said “that’s why we’re doing this ahead of time to get people used to using the alley so in the future when we do 7th Avenue they’re used to that alley already.”

The city of Marion is investing tax dollars to hide all the utilities, clean up the alley and turn it into a pedestrian walkway with benches, bike racks and other decorative features as well as the large pieces of public art.

That money, combined with donations, brings the total value of the alley project to just over $900,000.

Richie Akers, who owns the nearby Giving Tree Theater, said he’s anxious to see how the transformed alley steers customers to his business.

“All that increased foot traffic over there is definitely going to be a good thing for us. Just because people can see us from there,” he said.

Some business owners along 7th Avenue have given up portions of their property in back so the city can create even more gathering space for people.

The groundbreaking is set for 10:00 A.M. Saturday in Marion. The project should be finished by November.