The artist is planning a gallery in Iowa City that will focus on Indigenous art

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Decades from when Johnson County was nothing more than wilderness and hunting grounds for Native American tribes, a historic building in Iowa City is being reclaimed as a future site of Native American 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, strives to showcase a range of indigenous art in a state that takes its name from a Native American tribe.

The announcement was made on the Indigenous Peoples Art Gallery and Café Facebook page in late 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 of Iowa, the state’s only recognized tribe, and is an artist whose work includes a contribution to We the Interwoven, Volume 2, and founder of the Indigenous Arts Alliance, for which Davenport serves a non – Earn a Profit award.

“I think it’s every artist’s dream, but even as an indigenous Meskwaki person,” Davenport told Press-Citizen of his own gallery. “I can share my story with anyone who wants to come here. But also, you’ll get tired of my voice, I can bring 570 other stories here.”

In 2019, the same year that Davenport graduated from the University of Iowa, he founded the Indigenous Peoples Art Gallery and Café, temporarily located at 112½ E. Washington St. in downtown Iowa City before Davenport vacated the space and later transitioned to hosting virtual programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the pandemic, the gallery and cafe hosted virtual poetry readings and live interviews with tribal peoples.

As social distancing requirements began to relax in Iowa, Davenport said he began looking for another space in Iowa City, even exploring the possibility of relocating to the Riverside Theater’s former home on N. Gilbert St. 219, now The James Theatre.

While Davenport secured a space for the art gallery and cafe in Public Space One’s close house – another organization also using the newer PS1 space is the LGBTQ Iowa Archives & Library – the idea of ​​having a dedicated space, exist, he said.

When the opportunity presented itself to get the former church, Davenport seized it. His room in the PS1 Close House is used as his studio.

The new Indigenous Peoples Art Gallery and Café, housed in a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, offers a variety of programs.

Among the many ideas Davenport has for the gallery and cafe, he plans to host poetry readings, invite educators, give historical presentations about tribes who lived in Iowa, and have film screenings and television shows focused on Indigenous stories . Davenport hopes the gallery and cafe will encourage conversation among patrons about the art they just saw or encourage them to support the artist.

Originally, the word “cafe” in the name did not refer literally to a coffee shop, but to Davenport’s idea of ​​presenting various works of art in the same way a coffee shop presents a menu of food and drinks to its patrons. But if people want a cup of Joe, Davenport is ready and willing to make it happen.

If he does this or begins other types of programs, Davenport said he wants to keep the art gallery and cafe “100% indigenous.”

The two-story space lends itself to Davenport’s vision, including a small kitchen on the lower level where Davenport could host food-themed programs or simply serve guests a hot cup of coffee.

Upstairs, a raised platform overlooking a former parish lends itself to a natural stage for presenters or intimate poetry readings, and the large, empty space that once held rows of benches is being adapted for displaying art.

Davenport wants his gallery to keep changing so it’s fresh for returning visitors.

Davenport likens the Indigenous Peoples Art Gallery to a garden that, if nurtured, can grow something beautiful for the Iowa City community.

Artists in the gallery are paid for their work and invited to put up donation jars, social media links, etc. so that those unable to purchase their work can support them in other ways.

Davenport said he wants to create a “model” for artists, particularly as someone who has faced their own challenges in order to be fairly rewarded for their work.

“As an artist or an educator, it sucks. … Sometimes we don’t get our value for our knowledge in our stories, our history and our art,” he said.

Davenport also intends to provide space within the gallery for information about the artist whose work is on display or who is performing, so that upon entering, visitors will immediately have the context they need to better understand the art they will be viewing .

By possibly next spring, the UI alumnus hopes to have what he envisions as a space ready in time for an artist he hopes to host at the gallery.

For now he will be busy preparing the space and doing what he can while seeking financial support and donations from the community and later grants.

“This is where community support comes in,” he said. “I hope that’s something we all want here because I’m going to be bringing contemporary art. I’ll bring back the old story. I will bring education.

“But I will also bring in new technology and experiment with everything I was taught as a student and try to use all of that to bring great storytelling, art, history and food.”

Davenport said he hopes to foster partnerships, including with the UI Stanley Museum of Art or the university, both for the benefit of the creatives who enter his gallery and for the university, which he hopes will use this space as a would see something that would fill the gaps in education related to indigenous arts and history for students.

The space is something that any local Aboriginal people who want to learn more about their culture can benefit from, Davenport said.

“I don’t know what that will bring,” he said. “But I know I’m true to my vision. I know that. I know artists are interested in coming here. I think it’s just going to be a beautiful thing for everyone.”

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