The Midwest is filled with numerous opportunities to view free art. You can see some of the art from the windshield of your car or spend a few hours pounding the pavement, but no matter your viewing preferences, I can guarantee you will find some incredible pieces in America’s Heartland. I have personally experienced the art in each of these places and found each town to have an enjoyable free art scene.
1. Mason City, Iowa
Mason City is home to River City Sculptures on Parade. Each May, the sculptures are replaced with new ones. Throughout the year, new pieces are purchased and the public votes on one sculpture that does remain on the walkway. Summer brings an incredible time to view the sculptures and offers perfect weather for taking the 1.7-mile walking tour. Grab lunch at State Street Deli and enjoy your stroll. Be sure to take a photo with the sculpture of Meredith Willson, as Mason City is his boyhood town.
2. Abilene, Kansas
Abilene is Dwight D. Eisenhower’s hometown, but it also offers several murals that are free for the public to view. The Wild Bill Hickok mural is one of the most recognizable murals from Abilene that you’ll see as you drive down the main drag. A fan favorite is the American Bison Stamp, as well as the train mural that celebrates the Chisholm Trail. Book a night’s stay at either the Engle House or Abilene’s Victorian Bed & Breakfast. Both of these places will offer a cozy night of lodging with a breakfast you will talk about for years on end. Abilene, Kansas, is located along Kansas I-70 at exits 272 and 275.
3. Casey, Illinois
Casey is home to 12 of the “world’s largest” record holders. The world’s largest mailbox, rocking chair, mousetrap, and gavel can be found in Casey. Enjoy free parking when you explore the art in Casey, Illinois. Lace up a good pair of walking shoes and begin exploring the big things in this small town. You can find yourself underneath the world’s largest rocking chair and wonder how this chair became so big. Some of the big items can also be found driving around town. You will find something big and other fun things when you step foot in the shops and restaurants around town. The best part of Casey, Illinois, is that all of these works of art are free and will keep you entertained all day long.
4. Regent, North Dakota
Regent, North Dakota’s claim to fame is the Enchanted Highway. This incredibly fun and free drive begins at Exit 72 off of North Dakota I-94. You will find 32 miles of beauty in western North Dakota along with several majestic sculptures that line the road every few miles. When you exit the interstate, you will see Geese In Flight. This sets the excitement for the next 32 miles of free art in North Dakota. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it near one of the beautiful sculptures. These large metal sculptures are unique to North Dakota, and if you miss something the first 32 miles, don’t worry – you will return to the interstate on the same route. There are no trails to hike or special viewing places, which makes this a great activity for windshield viewing. Plan a restroom break at the end of the 32 miles in the town of Regent and enjoy the gift shop.
5. Janesville, Wisconsin
Janesville is a smaller Midwest town that is a short drive from well-known 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 downtown area. Grab breakfast at the local favorite Citrus Cafe before you begin your day exploring the free art in Janesville.
Pro Tips: Enjoy a glass of 100% freshly squeezed Florida orange juice with your meal, stop at downtown Janesville’s 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.
6. Wilson, Kansas
The World’s Largest Czech Egg can be spotted in Wilson, Kansas. This 20-foot tall egg is painted in traditional Czech patterns and stands tall in Wilson. This small Czech community is proud of this egg, as it is the light of the party when the celebration of Czech Heritage rolls around the last weekend in July every year. There are also several smaller Czech eggs located throughout the community. Plan to spend the night at the historic Midland Railroad Hotel for a memorable evening. The original hotel burned in the early 1900s. This hotel was restored and reopened in 2003. Movie buffs will appreciate the fact that the Midland Railroad Hotel was featured in the movie Paper Moon, starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. Wilson is a short drive off of Exit 206 from Kansas I-70.
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 view more than 30 incredible sculptures. This free sculpture park is located in downtown Des Moines, and visitors can stroll through the park from sunrise to midnight. You can easily spend 2 hours viewing these works of art in the downtown Des Moines area. Lace up a good pair of walking shoes and be prepared to take some fun photos of these beautiful works of art. Metered 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. LeMars, Iowa
Everybody 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 tour of the town to see the beautiful, 6-foot tall ice cream cones and then grab an ice cream treat at the Wells Visitor Center Ice Cream Parlor. When you are at the visitor center, grab a map to help you find all the cones throughout LeMars. You will find LeMars 22 miles northeast of Sioux City, Iowa.
9. Marysville, Kansas
Marysville is a town known for black squirrels. It was in 1912 that a traveling carnival came to town, and a young lad had a cage of black squirrels as a sideshow attraction. He released them into a park, and today black squirrels make up one-fifth of the squirrel population in Marysville. The black squirrels are celebrated through 34 fiberglass sculptures that are found throughout this town of 3,000 people. This free art tour offers some fun finds along the historic Oregon Trail. Marysville is a fun community that will bring a smile to your face when you start seeing the famous Black Squirrels on Parade. Marysville is in northeast Kansas along Highway 36.
10. Dubuque, Iowa
Dubuque sits along the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa, where Iowa started. With dozens of free murals to view in this river town, you are sure to be inspired. When you visit Dubuque, you will see that murals are prominent throughout the downtown area. One of the most colorful in Dubuque is the stunning mural that honors the life of Iowan botanist, educator, and preservationist, Ada Hayden. You can view this particular mural at 233 Main Street. Look up, down, and all around as the murals in Dubuque will leave you with your jaw dropped.
11. Green Bay, Wisconsin
Many people think of the Green Bay Packers when they hear Green Bay, Wisconsin. Art enthusiasts will appreciate the free art that lines the street in Green Bay. Several murals have recently lined the streets inspiring and entertaining you with the vibrant colors that are within each of them. Take your visit to the next level by using the hashtag #LoveGB on Instagram and share your visit with @disccovergreenbay. For insight before you visit, search the hashtag #LoveGB, as you will find yourself planning your visit as soon as possible.
Each of these towns is a small slice of what is available regarding free art across the Midwest. When you stop in a town in the heart of America, inquire at the visitor center if they have free art for viewing. You will find that many of them will hand you a map to get the most out of your visit. Any time you are road tripping across the Midwest, you can be assured that you can always count on free art to be available in some way, shape, or form. Mural and sculpture walks are something that everyone can experience, making this the perfect way to enjoy a Midwest community.