CLAS alum brightens downtown Iowa City with “Scribble Tree” light installation

The School of Art and Art History graduate has painted public murals across Iowa and most recently created a new light display in Iowa City’s ped mall.
Tuesday, November 22, 2022

By Katie Linder

Bright, whimsical, squiggly lights will catch the eye of visitors in downtown Iowa City this winter. 

with “Scribble Tree” light installation in downtown Iowa City
“Scribble Tree” light installation in downtown Iowa City

CLAS graduate and lecturer Ali Hval (19MFA) recently installed “Scribble Trees in the pedestrian mall. The colorful artwork, commissioned by the Iowa City Downtown District, looks like doodles on tree trunks and consists of 2,400 ft. of rope lights. The artwork is located on Dubuque Street, near the Weatherdance Fountain stage, and will be displayed throughout the winter.

“The lights really help brighten the community,” Hval explains. “During the winter the ped mall is covered in snow—white and gray. This adds a little bit of light.”

Hval spent three, cold days wrapping the trees in four different colors of rope, using zip ties and extension cords to position and power her work. An experienced muralist, this was her first 3D public piece.

“I got some looks as I was using the lift and kind of hugging the trees — it was a big learning curve,” she says. “But it’s fun to see how it immediately changed the area.”

Hval earned her MFA from Iowa in 2019 and has worked as a guest lecturer for her alma mater. She’ll return to teaching at the UI this spring semester, after taking off the fall for a fellowship at South Dakota State University.

Hval says her time as a graduate student prepared her extensively for the work she does now as a public artist. She participated in the Grant Wood Art Residency where she learned practical skills, like how to acquire materials, as well as manual trade skills, like how to use scaffolding, lifts, and other large tools. She also collaborated with the UI Office of Outreach and Engagement to install large murals in several Iowa communities.

Iowa graduate and lecturer Ali Hval
Ali Hval

“These experiences offered a no-pressure way of doing a project. I developed a pretty extensive portfolio during graduate school. I wasn’t planning on becoming a muralist, but here I am,” she says, laughing.

On her latest public artwork, Hval says she enjoys watching people pose and snap photos with the scribbly lights in Iowa City — and their seeing pictures light up her own Instagram feed. She hopes the whimsy and fun feeling will continue for those who pass by.

“I really hope it brightens peoples’ days,” she says. “That it has an immediate brightening effect and warms hearts.”


The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa is a comprehensive college offering 73 majors in the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. More than 17,000 undergraduate and 1,900 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by professors at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all UI undergraduates through the General Education Program, and confers about 70 percent of the UI's bachelor's degrees each academic year.