The University of Iowa

Ali Hval

Ali Hval, MFA 2019, accepts the 2019 Student Excellence and Service Award from the Office of Outreach and Engagement

Ali Hval (MFA 2019) won the 2019 Student Excellence and Service Award from the Office of Outreach and Engagement for her dedicated community engagement work on public art projects throughout the state of Iowa. Ali began painting public art murals in the summer of 2017 when a friend working with the Office of Outreach and Engagement invited her to join as an extra helping hand with a mural project. Ali's friend had to bow out, and Ali stepped up to become the main artist on the project.

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

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

"I love the amount of energy and support that comes from the public as a mural goes up. Even before the actual painting process, I'm always floored by the amount of 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 isn't just as simple as deciding something pretty to paint on a blank wall," Ali said.

In Spring 2019, Ali was chosen to be among the first Grant Wood 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. 

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

"I make many connections along the way to help facilitate the process, as well as meet a lot of 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, as well as 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 place to place: they're tailored to a community and the architecture of the space in which they exist, and so I believe visiting that site and getting to know the people in a place is a vital component to creating public art," Ali said.

Corydon, Iowa mural
While creating public art in a community, Ali recognizes the role she plays 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 she's done painting. 


"It's rewarding to see people interacting with art, especially outside of the typical white-walled gallery context. When I'm working on a mural, I'm witnessing the traffic flow of people near the site, but once I'm gone, I don't really have an idea of what that is anymore once the whole performance of artist-creating-mural-in public is gone. Seeing people tag either 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 my work will be seen by many people for years."