Iowa communities have valued art for along time as civic expression. Indeed for at least one of the state’s metropolitan areas, it’s a critical component to urban renewal.
In 1997, the opening of the new Sioux City Art Center was the start of what has been a continuing rejuvenation of the downtown – restoring old structures – building new ones.
The largest capital project in the city at that time, the Center itself is a work of art. It’s also the embodiment of the community spirit that exists here.
Al Harris-Fernandez, Director: It was the first big project where they raised a lot more than anybody thought they could. It gave everybody the feeling that we can do this; we can do it, like the little engine.
Sandra C. Ellis, Capital Campaign: It was probably one of the most successful volunteer efforts in Sioux City. Our hearts were in it.
Today, the Center has a permanent collection with almost 1,000 pieces. The focus is on 20th century regional, Midwestern artists.
But courtesy of various donations over the years, the collection is really eclectic, embracing differing mediums and styles and time periods as this recent landscape exhibit showed.
For the most part, the permanent collection is rotated through temporary exhibits – which should not be confused with temporary exhibits not sourced from the museum’s own collection.
You encounter the first one entering the atrium. Designed for this specific space by Minnesota artist Liz Miller, it will be up till 2010. It’s a complex piece titled Resplendent Reconnaissance.
Michael Betancourt, Curator: This piece has a lot of characteristic that we find with contemporary computer generated works. Generative sculpture, even though it’s not actually computer generated it has things in common with them.
Till March 22, 2008, Sioux City Collects showcases pieces of art from private collections in the area – some of which may not normally be seen very easily.
Previous temporary exhibits included Twigamore – a sculpture made of twigs that stood on the grounds outside, a kind of fantasy castle that invited children to play. The last remnant of it is in the atrium now.
Then there was the custom motorcycle exhibit. It showed that what customizers do is the same as what artists do: change things, express things in a different way.
Al Harris Fernandez: We want to bring in some very serious art that is very, not as accessible, but we want to balance that by having shows that are very accessible and that give people an entry into the art museum experience.
This institution isn’t just about “looking” and learning though. Since its earliest days in the late 1930s, there has been a strong educational tradition.
Today there’s the Hands-On Gallery which challenges young people to be creative and use their imaginations, see the world in different ways.
Each year during Youth Art Month, a juried exhibition of area students’ work promotes the importance of art in education -- and certainly gives the young people a boost whose work is chosen to display.
There’s 5,000 square feet of classroom space ... and a lecture hall for presentations. And there will be more.
An older structure next door is scheduled to be torn down and replaced with a classroom center elsewhere on the block. That will then free up more space for exhibits in the Center itself – including a more permanent collection.
Al Harris Fernandez: We’re going to commit to a permanent collection, small area that will have works that are on permanent display... you really get to know that artwork over a long period of time.
And every time you come back, you can stop and eat at the Gardner Cafe – which tries to serve all organic and local foods.
Funded equally by public and private funds, the Sioux City Art Center is definitely about art, but it is just as definitely about building community in all sorts of ways.