The Midwest is full of many opportunities to see free art. You can view some of the art from your car windshield or spend a few hours pounding the pavement, but whatever your viewing preferences, I can guarantee you’ll find some amazing pieces right in the heart of the art. America. I have personally experienced the art in each of these places and found each city to have a nice free art scene.
1. Mason City, Iowa
Mason City is home to River City Sculptures on Parade. Every May, the sculptures are replaced with new ones. Throughout the year, new pieces are purchased and the public votes for a sculpture that remains on the catwalk. Summer brings incredible weather to view the sculptures and provides perfect weather to do the 1.7 mile walking tour. Grab your lunch at the State Street Deli and enjoy your ride. Be sure to take a photo with Meredith Willson’s sculpture, as Mason City is her childhood town.
2. Abilene, Kansas
Abilene is the hometown of Dwight D. Eisenhower, but it also features several murals that the public can view for free. The Wild Bill Hickok Mural is one of Abilene’s most recognizable murals that you’ll see as you walk down Main Street. A fan favorite is the American Bison Stamp, as well as the train mural that celebrates the Chisholm Trail. Book a night at English house Where Abilene Victorian Bed & Breakfast. Both of these places will give you a comfortable night’s accommodation with a breakfast you’ll be talking about for years. Abilene, Kansas is located along Kansas I-70 at exits 272 and 275.
3. Casey, Ill.
Casey is home to 12 of the “world’s greatest record holders”. The world’s largest mailbox, rocking chair, mousetrap, and hammer can be found in Casey. Enjoy free parking when exploring art in Casey, Illinois. Put on a good pair of walking shoes and start exploring the big things in this small town. You may find yourself under the largest rocking chair in the world and wonder how this chair got so big. Some of the larger items can also be found by car in town. You will find something great and other fun things when you enter the shops and restaurants in town. The best part about Casey, Illinois is that all of this artwork is free and will keep you entertained all day.
4. Regent, North Dakota
Regent, North Dakota’s claim to fame is the enchanted highway. This incredibly fun and free ride begins at exit 72 of I-94 in North Dakota. You’ll find 32 miles of beauty in western North Dakota as well as several majestic sculptures lining the road every few miles. When you exit the highway you will see Geese in flight. This builds excitement for the next 32 miles of free art in North Dakota. Pack a picnic and enjoy it near one of the beautiful sculptures. These large metal sculptures are unique to North Dakota, and if you miss something during the first 20 miles, don’t worry, you’ll return to the highway via the same route. There are no hiking trails or special viewing spots, making this a great activity for windshield viewing. Plan a restroom break at the end of the 32 miles in Regent town and enjoy the gift shop.
5. Janesville, Wis.
Janesville is a small town in the Midwest located a short drive from the famous town of Madison, Wisconsin. This community has embraced the art scene in recent months. There are several beautiful free murals scattered throughout the community. You can walk to several of them in the city center. Have breakfast at the local favorite Citrus Coffee before you start your day exploring free art in Janesville.
Pro tips: Enjoy a glass of 100% freshly squeezed Florida orange juice with your meal, stop at the Downtown Janesville Visitor Center to pick up your Public Art Trail map, and end your day at the Genisa Wine Bar for a relaxing meal and good conversation.
The largest Czech egg in the world can be spotted in Wilson, Kansas. This 20-foot-tall egg is painted in traditional Czech designs and stands proudly in Wilson. This small Czech community is proud of this egg, as it is the light of the holiday when the Czech Heritage Celebration takes place every year on the last weekend of July. There are also several smaller Czech Eggs located throughout the community. Plan to spend the night in the historic Midland Railroad Hotel for a memorable evening. The original hotel burned down in the early 1900s. This hotel was restored and reopened in 2003. Movie buffs will appreciate that the Midland Railroad Hotel was featured in the film moon paper, starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. Wilson is a short drive from Kansas I-70 Exit 206.
7. Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines is home to the John & Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. In 2009, this 4.4 acre sculpture park opened and today you can see over 30 incredible sculptures. This free sculpture park is located in downtown Des Moines and visitors can walk through the park from sunrise to midnight. You can easily spend 2 hours looking at these works of art in downtown Des Moines. Put on a good pair of walking shoes and get ready to take some fun photos of these beautiful works of art. Paid street parking is available for a small fee. Des Moines is the state capital of Iowa and is located at the intersections of Iowa I-80 and Iowa I-35.
8. The March, Iowa
Everyone loves ice cream and LeMars is known as the Ice Cream Capital of the World. Blue Bunny ice cream is produced in LeMars, and the town is home to more than 50 ice cream sculptures. Take a free city tour to see the magnificent 6-foot-tall ice cream cones, then grab a frozen treat at the Wells Visitor Center Ice Cream Parlor. When you’re at the Visitor Center, pick up a map to help you find all of LeMars’ cones. You will find LeMars 22 miles northeast of Sioux City, Iowa.
9. Marysville, Kansas
Marysville is a town known for its black squirrels. It was 1912 when a traveling carnival came to town, and a young boy had a cage of black squirrels as a side attraction. He released them in a park and today black squirrels make up one-fifth of Marysville’s squirrel population. Black squirrels are celebrated through 34 fiberglass sculptures found throughout this town of 3,000. This free art tour offers fun discoveries along the historic Oregon Trail. Marysville is a fun community that will put a smile on your face when you start seeing the famous black squirrels on parade. Marysville is in northeastern Kansas along Highway 36.
10. Dubuque, Iowa
Dubuque sits along the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa, where Iowa began. With dozens of free murals to view in this river town, you’re sure to be inspired. When you visit Dubuque, you will see that the murals are prominent throughout the city center. One of the most colorful in Dubuque is the beautiful mural that honors Iowan life botanist, educator and preservationist, Ada Hayden. You can see this particular mural at 233 Main Street. Look up, down, and all around, as Dubuque’s murals will leave you speechless.
11. Green Bay, Wis.
Many people think of the Green Bay Packers when they hear of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Art lovers will appreciate the free art that lines Green Bay Street. Several murals have lined the streets recently, inspiring and entertaining you with the vibrant colors found in each one. Take your visit to the next level using the hashtag #LoveGB on Instagram and share your visit with @disccovergreenbay. For a preview before your visit, search the hashtag #LoveGB, as you’ll find yourself planning your visit as soon as possible.
Each of these cities is a small slice of what’s available in free art across the Midwest. When you stop in a city in the heartland of America, ask the visitor center if they offer free art. You will find that many of them will hand you a map to get the most out of your visit. Whenever you travel through the Midwest, you can rest assured that you can always count on free art to be available one way or another. The mural and sculpture walks are something anyone can experience, making them the perfect way to enjoy a Midwestern community.