Pedestrians walking through downtown Iowa City this summer may encounter everything from break dancers and improv comedy troupes to jazz quartets and classical musicians, all performing free, outdoor shows on the street.

The performances are being organized as part of a pilot program called the Open City project. The initiative is meant to support artists and the vibrancy of downtown, said Iowa City Downtown Executive Director Nancy Bird.

"Part of the local culture of Iowa City is really embedded in music and arts," she said. "We want to make sure we encourage that kind of activity."

The project is a collaboration between the Iowa City Downtown District, M.C. Ginsberg and the University of Iowa's Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning Initiative.

About 40 artists will perform for 10 weeks throughout the summer. Artist applications are still being accepted, and interested artists can apply at Each artist will receive a fee intended to cover the cost of the performance, ranging from $50 to $400.

John Engelbrecht is director at Public Space One and works with the Downtown District as an arts coordinator. He said in addition to the organized shows, he wants the Open City project to promote existing public art happening organically downtown.

Some of that art is organized in conjunction with local businesses, like regular Friday afternoon music in front of M.C. Ginsberg Jewelers, 110 E. Washington St. Other performances are more spontaneous. Busking, when musicians or artists put out a hat to take donations from passer-by while they perform, is a long-standing downtown tradition, especially on the Pedestrian Mall.

However, recent city code changes meant to restrict people asking for money on the street have had a negative impact on buskers, both Bird and Engelbrecht said.

Engelbrecht said he wants to use the Open City project to raise awareness about where busking is still allowed and to let artists know they can still perform in other zones if they don't ask for money.

"Iowa City is a place where you can just take your art form to the street, and we're trying to make that easier for people," he said.

Bird said she wants to keep the "pop-up" performance an integral part of Iowa City's environment.

"One thing that sets downtown Iowa City apart is people come down here for an experience," she said.

Engelbrecht said if the first ten weeks go well, there's a possibility Open City will continue in months and years to come.

"I'm hoping for innovative, uncanny performances that expose the general public to new forms of art," he said. "I'm interested in the depths of different talents of this location we find ourselves in and hopefully having more people experience this vibrancy."

While there isn't a set schedule for the performances, follow Open City on Twitter @icopencity or Facebook for alerts to upcoming shows.

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