Outdoor musical instrument park in harmony with the Phelps Youth Pavilion

WATERLOO – Once upon a time there was a mosaic dolphin sculpture on display outside the Waterloo Center for the Arts.

The undulating multi-octave chiming metallophone, constructed of steel tubing and aluminum, is one of six outdoor musical instruments at the new Phelps Melody Park. The park is located at the Waterloo Center of the Arts and the Phelps Youth Pavilion.

A grand opening celebration is scheduled for October 8th. A family program, scheduled for 1 p.m., will include a ribbon cutting, a short musical performance/demonstration, games and craft activities. Refreshments will be served.

Visitors to the Youth Pavilion that day will receive free entry with every regular entry.

“It’s a really exciting way for us to connect with people in an unexpected setting. It gives the public a little taste, a sample of the fun and educational experiences of the Phelps Youth Pavilion. We wanted to move that sense of play found inside to outside those doors,” said executive director Kent Shankle.

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These outdoor instruments are a collection of chimes, metallophones and drums that welcome musicians of all ages and abilities to experience the subtle shifts in tones and individual sound combinations.

Artist Erin Anfinson was a resident artist in Tallgrass Prairie and discovered that surviving 0.1% Tallgrass Prairie descendants can be found in Victorian township cemeteries in Iowa. These experiences permeate her encaustic pieces and fabrics in this exhibition at the Waterloo Center for the Arts, through November 6.

The sextet also includes “Swirl”, a sculptural instrument with chimes ranging from soprano to alto; “Pagoda Bells”, a series of eight stainless steel bells arranged vertically with two mallets to allow people to play simultaneously; “Tuned Drums,” a set of five resonating drums; “Contrabass Chimes,” seven aluminum chimes that range in height from seven to nine feet and are pitched an octave below middle C; and “Melody”, a series of nine anodized aluminum keys or bars placed in a frame that can be played with a pair of mallets.

“Because so much of what we do is interactive, we wanted that to be integrated in some way on the outside as well. We wanted that to be reflected front and center,” Shankle said.

Phelps Melody Park was originally inspired by public enjoyment at Mark’s Park, a wading pool and play structures for children 12 and under located adjacent to the RiverLoop Amphitheater.

“We’ve seen the success and demand for Mark’s Park and realized that people are looking for free, fun and educational activities to do with their kids. It got us thinking about what we could do that ties into our mission and reflects the experiences available in the Pavilion, but in an outdoor setting that is open 24/7 and at no cost,” Shankle explained.

The installation of the musical sculptures took place recently after the reconstruction of the parking lot and the landscape surrounding the entrance to the arts center and the pavilion.

“The instruments are tuned to be played like any traditional musical instrument, so it’s possible to have small group performances there,” the director said.

Tuned Drums are among the outdoor musical instruments at Phelps Melody Park.


Additionally, a pair of kaleidoscope sculptures have been installed next to the instrument park. They are interactive planters that echo the experiences of art and perception found in the arts center.

“We are currently working on adding kinetic sculptures that move and engage people in different ways,” Shankle said.

The dolphin, by the way, is now installed with other outdoor sculptures on the river walk behind the arts center.

Funds for Phelps Melody Park were provided by Friends of the Arts Center, Community Foundation of Northeastern Iowa, a memorial contribution from the family of Dr. Michael Hollen, and support from the Arts Council of the United States. ‘Iowa and the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

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