PUBLIC ART AT MAINFRAME “Critical Mass” by Molly Spain, and the upcoming “Inhale, Exhale” by Jordan Weber

Designed by local artist Molly Spain, “Critical Mass” is a large-scale permanent mural covering the entire exterior façade of Mainframe Studios' five story building located at 900 Keosauqua Way in downtown Des Moines.

In September 2021, professional contractors at Heartland Finishes completed the nearly four-month process of preparing the building's surfaces and applying color. Approximately 40,000 square feet of surface was painted with 900 gallons of paint that used 1596 hours of labor.

Mainframe Studios commissioned the 360-degree mural 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 most recent renovations came in under budget and occupancy was 100% within 30 days of completion. Fundraising will continue until its final floor is renovated and the organization’s financially self-sustaining business plan is fully realized.

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Working in harmony with the mural, Jordan Weber’s rooftop installation titled “Inhale, Exhale” is scheduled for early 2022 to feature 5-foot high mirrored stainless steel lettering that is backlit by LED bulbs.


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 is being 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.


A large-scale rooftop art installation by Iowa’s premier contemporary artist/activist Jordan Weber that reads “Inhale, Exhale” is scheduled to happen this summer at Mainframe Studios. Constructed from mirrored stainless steel that is backlit by LED bulbs, the nearly 5-foot-high letters will reflect the sky during the day and be seen from Interstate-235 at night. The artist chose to point his installation towards Oakridge Neighborhood with its words inhale and exhale serving as a reminder that maintaining a meditative breath can be healing when facing challenges, including discrimination. Oakridge is a low-income housing organization serving 53% children, and 66% immigrants and refugees from over 23 countries. With a career focused on racism and environmental justice, Jordan uses his art to provoke reflection, discussion and progress.


Jordan Weber is a Des Moines-based multidisciplinary artist who was a recent artist-in-residence in St. Louis through a collaborative project of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and Washington University’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Equity (CRE2) and Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. Weber is best known for a series of urban land remediation projects on vacant lots and his deconstructed police vehicles, which have been turned into community gardens. His work has been exhibited at White Box, New York; Union for Contemporary Art, Omaha; Des Moines Contemporary Art Museum; The Soap Factory, Minneapolis; Smack Mellon, New York; Manifest Justice, Los Angeles; Charlotte Street Foundation; Kansas City; Gallery 38, Los Angeles; Open Engagement, Chicago; Truth to Power, Philadelphia; and 50/50, Kansas City. He is best known for his deconstructed police vehicles turned community gardens/workout equipment. Community based projects include CFUM Community vertical garden youth workshop, Des Moines, IA; CFUM Social Practice youth 3-week summer program, Des Moines, IA; Found Neighborhood Objects youth programming, Union for Contemporary Art, Omaha, NE; Organize Resist /A Man Was Lynched by Police (Dread Scott) collaboration, 50/50 Gallery, Kansas City, MO; KnowJustice, Incarcerated Youth Self-Empowerment Program, Art Force Iowa, Des Moines, IA; Anti-Displacement Youth Mural Project, Oakland Youth Engaged-The Unity Council Oakland, CA; Native Grass Meditation Mound Installations #2, Des Moines, IA; and Graffiti Tutorial with Mobile Art Gallery, Children and Family Urban Movement, Des Moines, IA. Awards and fellowships include 2022 LOEB Fellowship, Tanne Foundation Award, USA Artist Fellowship Nominee, Joan Mitchell Fellowship Nominee, Des Moines Public Art Foundation fellowship/grant, Iowa Arts Council Artist Fellowship, and the African American Leadership Forum Fellowship.