IN THE NEWS | Des Moines artist among 10 'accomplished practitioners' chosen worldwide for Harvard fellowships

IN THE NEWS | Des Moines artist among 10 'accomplished practitioners' chosen worldwide for Harvard fellowships Isaac Hamlet, Des Moines Register | 08/11/2021

Note: Mainframe Studios has commissioned Jordan Weber to create a rooftop public art installation on its roof to debut Spring 2022.

A Des Moines artist is taking a big step onto the world stage.

Jordan Weber is one of 10 people chosen from around the world to be 2022 Loeb Fellows — a recognition that places him among an elite group of artists, architects, urban planners, real estate developers and designers.

"Accomplished practitioners, influential in shaping the built and natural environment, whose work is advancing positive social outcomes," the fellows spend a year at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design, the Loeb Fellowship website says.

The university described Weber — an artist who specializes in installations and murals — as working "at the cross section of social justice and environmental racism."

The fellows receive a stipend to spend the year at Harvard, auditing class there and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, engaging with faculty and students and collaborating with their peers. The university says they ultimately become members of an international network of more than 450 Loeb alumni.

Joining a class of fellows from South Africa, Nigeria, Germany, New York, Baltimore and Detroit, Weber will be the inaugural fellow for a new partnership between Loeb and ArtLab, an interdisciplinary facility on the Harvard campus that seeks to provide visiting artists space to experiment while interacting with students.

“It’s like my wildest dreams have come true... (allowing me) to do the important work in a way that’s truly impactful and sustainable," said the Des Moines native, who attended both Simpson College in Indianola and Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids as well as the American University in Rome.

His resume is studded with exhibitions and projects around the Midwest, including Minneapolis, St. Louis and, of course, Des Moines.

Activism is in his blood. His father was a co-founded the Fort Des Moines Black Soldiers Museum and his mother directed an inner-city youth center that often held art workshops.

Weber himself was part of the #KnowJustice Incarcerated Youth Empowerment Program locally and has a history of advocacy through art and protest — something he engaged in when, last year, he turned down a Governor's Art Award because Gov. Kim Reynolds had yet to sign an executive order restoring voting rights for felons who had served their sentences.

Designing communal space at Harvard

Now, Weber will continue his advocacy through art on the Harvard campus. Among his many projects, he said, will be a piece meant to help enrich the ArtLab space.

It's still in the early stages, but the installation outside the ArtLab building's entrance will focus on a line from "The Hill We Climb," the poem that poet Amanda Gorman, at 22 the youngest ever to receive the honor, read at January's presidential inauguration. The words "the loss we carry, a sea we must wade," will be displayed in bronze, encircling boulders of black obsidian.

Weber said he hopes the installation will provide a space for community and collaboration with Black and Indigenous people.

"So if you think of a campfire or a space to bond and find respite in, it would be this circular space on an elevated, Zen garden pitch," Weber said.

He said he plans to create a similar installation at the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

People gather across the Midwest

While winning a Loeb Fellowship is a singular distinction for Weber, it's not the first recognition he has received. Most recently, he was an artist in residence at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis where, last year, he broke ground on an urban farm project titled "Prototype for poetry vs rhetoric (deep roots)."

Laid out in the form of a basketball court with sculptural elements representing baskets, the garden occupies a lot in a diverse north side neighborhood that, according to Minneapolis Public Radio, had been vacant since a tornado tore through in 2011.

"The more vacant lots you activate to mitigate pollution, from the soil, water and air, the more health benefits it’s going to have on our brown, black and Indigenous populations that are really overexposed to pollutants," MPR quoted Weber as saying.

Another of his projects, from 2018, is the "4MX Greenhouse" in Omaha, Nebraska. The greenhouse occupies the former site of the first home of Omaha native Malcolm X, and mimics the design of the humble shotgun house.

He's also begun a project in St. Louis with the Pulitzer Arts Foundation museum in support of a successful campaign to close the city's Medium Security Institution, also known as "the Workhouse," a jail that was heavily criticized for what activists said were its poor and dangerous conditions.

In addition, Weber will help the Pulitzer Arts Foundation with a project to turn the stone ruins of Spring Church, a former gothic-style Baptist church in St. Louis, into an arts events site.

A foot still in Des Moines

Even while involved in projects elsewhere, Weber still has one foot in his hometown.

He recently was the lead artist on a mural created in memory of Yore Jieng, a 14-year-old Des Moines high school student killed by a stray bullet in 2016. That mural, commissioned by the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation, is located in the Oakridge neighborhood on the surface of a basketball court where Jieng and his friends played.

Weber is working on another Des Moines project titled "Inhale, Exhale." it will feature those words in 5-foot, illuminated letters placed in solar panels on the roof of the Mainframe Studios artist complex on Keosauqua Way. It should be complete sometime this fall.

As Weber explained, the words "inhale" and "exhale" will be "this self-sustainable mantra to focus on your breathing, to calm down and to focus on the difficulty of simple actions by Black, brown and Indigenous people like breathing or walking down the street without being seen as a threat," he said.

He has plans for more Des Moines projects. One idea he has is to create a green zone of dedicated land in downtown Des Moines — a garden that not only would serve as a space to decompress but provide local access to no- or low-cost healthy food and combat climate change.

Similar to "Prototype for poetry vs rhetoric (deep roots)" in Minneapolis, it's the kind of project Weber said he would like to see more cities undertake.

"It might sound utopian in nature, but we have to get to the point where we are healing our communities and healing our land to where it’s having a larger impact on the biosphere," Weber said. "We see the effects of climate change right now and it impacts communities of color first and foremost."

Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Des Moines Register. Reach him at or (319)-600-2124, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet.