CRITICAL MASS BEGINS / 360-Degree Mural Takes Shape

CRITICAL MASS BEGINS / 360-Degree Mural Takes Shape Mainframe Studios | 06/01/2021

“Critical Mass” is a large-scale permanent mural by artist Molly Spain that will cover the entire exterior façade of Mainframe Studios’ five story building located at 900 Keosauqua Way in downtown Des Moines.

Designed by Mainframe artist Molly Spain, professional contractors have started the three-month process of preparing the building’s surfaces and applying color.  Not only will Molly’s mural will add vibrant color to the Des Moines landscape, but it will help identify Mainframe’s physical space as a place where visitors are inspired to find creativity.

Mainframe Studios commissioned the work last year as part of its capital campaign to finish renovating the former CenturyLink facility into the largest nonprofit creative workspace in the nation. As of March 2021, Mainframe Studios has four of its five floors renovated and a total of 131 studios. These recent renovations came in under budget and occupancy was 100% within 30 days of completion. Fundraising will continue until the final floor is renovated and the organization’s financially self-sustaining business plan is fully realized.


Critical Mass is the vision of artist Molly Spain. By definition, the term critical mass addresses the size or amount required to maintain a movement or venture. The mural gives critical mass a visual representation through dark, fluctuating, totem-like columns that portray the stacks of creative disciplines at Mainframe Studios where their interplay produce colorful and varying outcomes. The artist looked to the Brutalism architecture style for inspiration. When mapping out the building’s elevations and studying its grid system, Molly started connecting its geometric block pile construction to her own art practice that works with elemental materials and references ancient structures to interpret the many ways humans have interacted with the planet. As one of its artists, Molly says the mural is a way to honor what Mainframe Studios stands for and. She states, “There is vibrancy and endless possibilities when creative forces are at work. We bring thoughtfulness and an irreplaceable perspective to our communities. Enhancing and influencing our surroundings from a place of curiosity, discovery and the ability to manifest with little hesitation.”


Molly Spain is a native Iowan who has built a skilled, multidisciplinary art practice in painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and installations. Informed by extensive travel, Molly explores references to unearthed ancient structures, foundations and artifacts both in their physical forms and the energy they embody. Using mostly elemental, monochromatic materials she proposes abstract and intuitive interpretations of the past and future. Molly studied at Slade School of Art at University College London and at Iowa State University before graduating from University of New Mexico. Her work has been exhibited at Olson Larsen Gallery, published in DSM Magazine and shown in group shows in Iowa and New Mexico. Molly’s art is collected by Surety Hotel, St. Kilda and numerous private clients throughout the U.S. She works out of Studio #451 at Mainframe Studios. | | 


After nearly two years of planning, Critical Mass will be executed in phases and by sections. The process begins with power washing the concrete exterior surfaces before a coat of neutral primer paint is applied. After that color will start to be applied. The 160,000 square foot building was erected in 1978 using precast curtain wall construction methods. Molly’s mural design took into consideration the building’s concrete panel grid, which has sections of smooth and grooved finishes. The work is being done by Heartland Finishes with the artist being on hand to help aid the process. An event to celebrate its completion is planned for Friday August 6, 2021. 


Based in Des Moines, Iowa, Mainframe Studios is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization providing permanent, affordable workspaces for artists of all disciplines. The organization is transforming Central Iowa’s art scene by creating a financially self-sustaining economic and cultural driver, serving as a national model that stands the test of time. Learn more at