Decades after Johnson County was little more than wilderness and hunting grounds for Native American tribes, a historic building in Iowa City is being reclaimed as a future site for indigenous art, history and culture.
The Indigenous Peoples Art Gallery and Café has a new home at 10 S. Gilbert St., where its founder, Dawson Davenport, aspires to showcase an array of indigenous art in a state named after a Native American tribe.
The announcement was made by the Indigenous Peoples Art Gallery and Café Facebook page at the end of August.
The building housed Iowa City’s first Unitarian church for more than 100 years until it moved to Coralville in 2017.
Davenport is a member of the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa, the only federally recognized tribe in the state, and an artist whose work includes a contribution to “We the Interwoven, Volume 2” and founder of Indigenous Arts Alliance, for which Davenport is in progress. to obtain a non-profit designation.
“I think it’s every artist’s dream, but even as a Meskwaki Native,” Davenport told the Press-Citizen of his own gallery. “I can share my story with anyone who wants to come here. But also, you’re sick of my voice, I can bring another 570 stories here.
In 2019, the same year Davenport graduated from the University of Iowa, he founded the Indigenous Peoples Art Gallery and Café, temporarily housed at 112½ E. Washington St. in downtown Iowa City before Davenport only left the space and later, during the COVID-19 pandemic, transitioned to hosting virtual programs.
During the pandemic, the gallery and cafe hosted virtual poetry readings and live interviews with Indigenous people.
As social distancing requirements began to ease in Iowa, Davenport said he began looking for another space in Iowa City, even exploring the possibility of moving into the former Riverside Theater home at 219 N. Gilbert St., now The James Theatre.
As Davenport secured a room to hold Public Space One’s Close House art gallery and cafe — another organization also using the new PS1 space is the LGBTQ Iowa Archives & Library — the idea of having its own space remained, he said.
When the opportunity arose to obtain the old church, Davenport took it. His space at PS1’s Close House will be used as his studio.
The new Indigenous Peoples Art Gallery and Café, housed in a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will host a variety of programming.
Among the many ideas Davenport has for the gallery and cafe, he plans to hold poetry readings, invite educators to hold historical presentations about the tribes that lived in Iowa, and show film screenings. and television programs centered on Aboriginal stories. Davenport hopes the gallery and cafe will foster conversation among guests about the art they’ve just witnessed or encourage them to support the artist.
Originally, the word “coffee” in the name was not a literal reference to a cafe, but rather Davenport’s idea of presenting various arts in the same way a cafe presents its patrons with a menu of dishes and drinks. But if people want a cup of coffee, Davenport is ready and willing to deliver.
Whether he does or gets into any other kind of programming, Davenport said he wants the art gallery and cafe to remain “100% Indigenous.”
The two-level space lends itself to Davenport’s vision, including a small kitchen on its lower level where Davenport could house food-related programs or simply serve a hot cup of coffee to customers.
Upstairs, a raised platform facing what was once a congregation lends itself to a natural stage for presenters or intimate poetry readings, and the large empty space that once housed rows of pews will be suitable for display art.
Davenport wants his gallery to constantly change so it’s fresh for returning visitors.
‘I hope it’s something we all want here’: What the gallery and cafe can bring to Iowa City
Davenport likens the Indigenous Peoples Art Gallery to a garden that, if nurtured, can grow something beautiful for the Iowa City community.
Gallery artists will be paid for their work and will be asked to set up donation jars, social media links, and more. so that those who cannot afford their work can support them in other ways.
Davenport said he wanted to create a “role model” for artists, especially as someone who has faced their own challenges in getting properly compensated for their work.
“It sucks as an artist or an educator. …Sometimes we don’t get the value of our knowledge in our stories, our history and our art,” he said.
Davenport also intends to dedicate space in the gallery to information about the artist whose work is exhibited or performing so that visitors, upon entering, can immediately have the context they need to better understand the artist. art they will see.
Perhaps next spring, the UI alumnus hopes to have the space he plans to complete in time for an artist he hopes to welcome to the gallery.
For now, he will be busy preparing the space, doing what he can by seeking financial support and donations from the community, and later, grants.
“That’s where community support comes in,” he said. “I hope it’s something we all want here because I’m going to bring contemporary art. I will bring ancient history. I will bring education.
“But I’m also going to bring new technology and experiment with everything I learned as a student, trying to use it all to bring storytelling, art, history and food .”
Davenport said he hopes to foster partnerships, including with the UI Stanley Museum of Art or the university, both to benefit the creatives who enter his gallery and for the university, which he hopes will would see this space as something that would fill educational gaps. related to Aboriginal art and history for students.
The space is something that can benefit all local Indigenous people who want to learn more about their culture, Davenport said.
“I don’t know what it will bring,” he said. “But I know that I am true to my vision. I know that. I know artists are interested in coming here. I think it will just be a beautiful thing for everyone.
Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle and the arts at Iowa City Press-Citizen. Contact her at [email protected] or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.