Good Neighbor: Iowa Co-op Turns Pole Yard Fence Into Local Art Display

MVEC’s Al Reiter and Christie Remley install 3-foot-by-3-foot paintings by local artists along the co-op’s pole yard fence in Anamosa, Iowa. A local business donated the sturdy metal panels that withstood a recent snowstorm. (Photo Courtesy: MVEC)

In Anamosa, Iowa, birthplace of “American Gothic” painter Grant Wood, community and art go hand-in-hand. So, when Maquoketa Valley Electric Cooperative set up a pole yard with a slatted chain-link fence adjacent to its headquarters in the heart of town, the hunt was on to beautify the project and show the co-op’s commitment to being a good neighbor.

“As a cooperative, MVEC shows concern for community in a variety of ways and strives to be a good neighbor in the communities we serve,” said Christie Remley, MVEC’s manager of communications and public relations. “With our pole yard fence, we wanted to make it a positive element in downtown Anamosa by showcasing local artists’ work.”

The co-op initially commissioned paintings by local high schoolers on vinyl banners and hung them along the sides of the fence that face the public. But a 2020 derecho packing 70-mph winds destroyed the exhibit.

A group of panels painted by local artists help beautify Makoqueta Valley Electric Cooperative’s pole yard in Anamosa, Iowa. (Photos Courtesy: MVEC)

Remley then set about trying to find a second solution and contacted MVEC member K.C. Wortman, owner of Thou Art, a gallery around the corner from the co-op, to see if her students would volunteer paintings for the project.

“She took it a step further and looped in Derek Lumsden, Jones County’s economic development director,” said Remley. Together, they applied for a paint grant from Paint Iowa Beautiful, a program of the statewide nonprofit Keep Iowa Beautiful.

They also approached Metal Design Systems, a local business, to donate six metal panels that would serve as a sturdier medium for outdoor artwork. Wortman’s art students produced a variety of work, from abstract designs to scenes of a bucket truck and power pole.

MVEC Energy Adviser Al Reiter and Remley recently installed the 3-foot-by-3-foot panels along the fence as the town braced for a snowstorm. Folks driving by gave a thumbs-up, and social media posts echoed appreciation for the colorful art display, Remley said.

The paintings were unmoved by the harsh weather.

“There are so many talented and generous people out there on our lines and in our community. We are grateful for the opportunity to shine a light on them any way we can,” said Remley.

Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.