The Larry Schlue Memorial Memorial Sound Park was dedicated in a ceremony held Saturday, Sept. 21, on Main Street.
Belle Plaine Mayor Dave Fish led the ceremony, and he pointed out the positive change this brings to Belle Plaine. He said, “I’m proud of this community and its members and how they work together to recognize opportunity and proactively seek positive change. Belle Plaine is a progressive and vibrant community and this pocket park is a great example of how we put energy and resources into our historic downtown. Residents have a new community space to gather, visitors have a safe and engaging way to see how transportation and businesses live side-by-side, and everyone can be part of an active art experience.”
Fish added, “Belle Plaine did a large revitalization project in 2012 which included major streetscape work and façade improvements. There has long been interest in adding art or cultural elements. This sound park is the next step forward in our downtown vision. Today, we get to celebrate artistic components that provide a dynamic and engaging space.”
He urged people to take selfies at the park and to hastag it, “BellePlaineSoundPark.”
Fish concluded, “I’m pleased that not only can we offer something new and innovative with this park, we can, at the same time, celebrate a man’s legacy in community betterment. The Larry Schlue Memorial Park includes the first sculptural work in downtown Belle Plaine. It encourages people to stop, get out of their car, and interact with art and with our downtown. It also reminds people that an individual can have a lasting impact on a community.”
Greg Johnson, president of Belle Plaine Community Development Corporation, said, “Belle Plaine Community Development works to make Belle Plaine a place that celebrates its historic downtown and focuses on its vibrant future. As one of 55 Main Street Iowa Communities in the state, Belle Plaine seeks to capitalize on our unique identify, social and architectural assets, and downtown character using a common-sense, strategy-driven framework that guides community-based downtown revitalization efforts.”
Johnson added, “Some of you may remember that the property where we are standing now was originally two downtown lots. This space has been home to several taverns, Janss Meat Locker, and McMahon Home Decorating. Today, it is an inclusive space for art and music and a successful example of collaboration. One that raises Belle Plaine’s profile, inspires more walking traffic, and spurs both economic development and personal connection to the downtown. I’m proud of the role BPCDC has played in the completion of this sound park and am looking forward to this next phase: promotion of this attraction. There is great opportunity here for unguided exploration but also for pop-up events, interpretive signage, and perhaps even, temporary art installations.”
Jessica Rilling, Executive Director for Iowa Valley RC&D, pointed out, “Belle Plaine, Iowa is located on two of Iowa’s 12 state designated scenic byways, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway and the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway. As the chair for the Byways of Iowa Coalition I get to collaborate with all of the byways in Iowa. As the Coordinator for the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway I get to work directly with the 14 communities along the 77-mile route on the preservation, interpretation, and creation of special places.”
She explained, “The Byways of Iowa Public Art Initiative began in 2014 with an interest from Byway stakeholders across the state of Iowa to expand opportunities to experience authentic local art. These stakeholders are part of a collaboration known as the Byways of Iowa Coalition. The Coalition is made up of representatives and coordinators from 10 state scenic byways, 2 national scenic byways, and 2 heritage byways across Iowa, who work together to promote Iowa’s Byways and develop and lead projects that improve and expand upon the intrinsic qualities and resources in byway corridors throughout the state. The Coalition works collaboratively with the Byways of Iowa Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, to protect, enhance and promote cultural, natural, and scenic resources along Iowa’s byways, fostering authentic experiences with byway partners and communities to increase visitor-related economic development.”
She concluded, “Here, at the Larry Schlue Memorial Sound Park, not only was engaging public art installed, the downtown parcel was greatly improved for longevity and safety. A retaining wall and fence were installed, an old cistern was removed, and drainage was redone. This project is a showcase for collaboration and a shining example of local support.”
She thanked the City of Belle Plaine, Belle Plaine Community Development, Benton Development Group, Iowa Valley Scenic Byway Board, Iowa Department of Transportation, and the Byways of Iowa Coalition, as well as National Endowment for the Arts, Northeast Iowa RC&D, Byways of Iowa Foundation, the Mansfield Charitable Trust, and the Larry Schlue Living Trust. Also receiving thanks were Casey’s General Store, the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, the Iowa Arts Council, Benton County Community Foundation, Benton County Conservation, Belle Plaine Rotary, The MidWestOne Bank branch in Belle Plaine and The MidWestOne Foundation.
Rilling also singled out artist John Schlue and the friends and family of Larry Schlue.
Others receiving thanks were the National Playground Compliance Group, Cronbaugh Excavating, Manatts, Specialized Concrete, Precision Sheet Metal, Coover Construction, and Hamilton Construction, as well as the neighboring businesses, Carquest and Styling with Trish.
Steve Beck played an instrumental role in the implementation of the project. He read a note from artist John Schlue, son of Larry and Duronda Schlue.
The note stated, “Proposals for this space required the artists to connect to the Belle Plaine community theme of transportation. I was immediately drawn to the proximity of the train tracks, the historic importance of the railroad to Belle Plaine and the idea of presenting ‘transportation’ in a different but engaging way.”
Schlue wrote, “In my own work I had been I had been exposed to audio elements and I was interested in sound as an experience. For this project I wanted to connect transportation, passing trains, sound waves, and public art. My first consideration was the space itself. Anyone that has stood close to a passing freight train understands the power and volume of that experience. And this piqued my interest.
“It represented movement, not only the physical act of the train traveling but the sound waves generated from that event. It is a tidal wave of sound. I needed to understand what sound waves were, how they moved, what their structures look liked. My research led me to a Professor of Acoustic Engineering at USC in Los Angeles who was kind enough to respond to my email. A crash course began in how sound traveled and how it reacted to surfaces. It was in these initial conversations that I learned about sound absorption and sound reflection. The professor was studying ancient Greek churches. And those structures featured some of the most interesting acoustic engineering ever created.”
Schlue explained, “Using surface, structure, and engineering the churches created an intentional sensory experience. Add a choir and there was a genuinely spiritual experience. There are two Whisper Dishes in this space.”
Schlue explained the dishes, writing, “I would later understand that the dishes were ‘Parabolic Dishes’ and their shape creates a focal point. When you speak into the focal point it reflects that sound opposite of the surface or the dish, and when paired with a second dish perfectly parallel, it travels directly in the other dish’s focal point. Between the World Wars, England experimented with Acoustic Mirrors to detect enemy aircraft as radar had not yet been developed. By WWII the shores of England had a network of Parabolic shaped Acoustic Mirrors.”
“There are also four Monolith Reflectors in this space. The sculptural monolith, from the structures at Stonehenge, monuments and artifacts across the globe have used this shape. They have created wonder and been basis for the plot to one of my favorite movies, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. In 2001 we see how these strange structures influence the consciousness of those who encounter them. Are they gateways to other parts of the universe or machines sent to learn?”
“Their presence opens our mind.
“They transport us in a primal way.
“In this space they reflect sound.”
Schlue explained, “I intended the layout of this park to be a symmetrical pattern with the intent to focus the reflected sound towards a focal point in the middle of the space. I also wanted to allow visitors to move comfortably from one point to the other in a non-linear way.”
There are four outdoor instruments are installed in the central space.
Schlue wrote, “After spending considerable time devoted to the concept and initial layout of the space I realized that something special was right in front of my eyes. There was an opportunity to take this project from an art-focused concept to one that would invite visitors to create their own sound waves. Having experienced outdoor instruments with my own children I knew this was the direction the concept needed to go.
“This park features Native Iowa Landscaping. This was the final piece to the puzzle that would become the Sound Park. Friends of mine in California had introduced me to the idea of Native gardens, utilizing plants that are native to a region is the key to creating a rich environment for the spectrum of life we all consider so special.
“With the help of the Benton County Conservation Department they were able to create a plant list and a plan to create a low maintenance, native Iowa plant environment.”
Schlue said, “Although the initial impact is, perhaps, underwhelming in a few years we should witness the space alive with flowers, grasses, and pollinators.”
Schlue concluded, “I am so grateful for this opportunity. Your trust in my vison means so much to me. My hope was to create a space that will inspire and engage people young and old. I’m so proud to dedicate this project to my dad, Larry Schlue. He led by example and his heart was full of love.”
Also speaking was Jared Bauch, a longtime friend of Larry Schlue.