Art often is described as a filter for the happenings of the world, with the artist offering a unique perspective meant to challenge the viewer to see and experience things in a way they hadn’t before.
That concept is at the heart of a new annual event set to launch locally.
The Dubuque Museum of Art will debut The City Speaks on Sunday, Sept. 22, with additional events taking place on Wednesday, Sept. 25; Saturday, Sept. 28; and Sunday, Sept. 29.
Dubbed a festival of the humanities and storytelling as art, the inaugural event sponsored by Humanities Iowa features a series of talks that aim to connect the arts and humanities to ideas relevant to today’s world.
Themes explored will include “Tiny Revolution,” an idea that begins as a conversation and grows to contribute to the betterment of the world; “Disruption,” an innovation that displaces established approaches to existing conventions; “Redemption,” acknowledging human potential for renewal after having failed or been broken; “’Shout’acuracy,” civil disobedience in which the loudest voice creates the greatest impact; and “Collective Joy,” a group of events involving music, synchronized movement, costumes and a feeling of loss of self.
It’s a project that saw its beginnings through social gatherings at the museum.
“Margaret Buhr (director of education) and I noticed how much people tend to want to engage informally at the museum,” said David Schmitz, executive director of DuMA. “We had really strong attendance at programs where people could share and give voice to what’s happening in their lives.”
Drawing inspiration from events like PechaKucha and TED Talks, yet staying within the realm of the arts, the event began taking shape as an opportunity for presenters to engage with community members. It will tackle topics as viewed through the lens of different facets of the arts.
The museum solicited community members for presentations, resulting in a potpourri of speakers addressing varying topics and representing an array of art forms.
“There is a diversity of voices and perspectives — truly,” Schmitz said. “We’re excited to have some folks with traditional credentials and professors, as well locals and people coming from a national level who have received some accolades for their work.”
In collaboration with the Dubuque International Day of Peace, the first talk will be courtesy of Magdalena Gomez, who will approach bullying as seen through poetry and art.
Gomez is a nationally recognized performance poet, author, playwright, educator, social activist and motivational speaker.
“Art Roche, of Dubuque International Day of Peace, approached us and had identified a theme to highlight the issue of immigration and bullying and hit a home run with Magdalena Gomez,” Schmitz said. “We already were planning The City Speaks, so it offered the perfect opportunity for collaboration. We’re totally riding their coattails on that one.”
Other speakers throughout the week will include A. Alanda Gregory, of Carnegie-Stout Public Library in Dubuque, who will broach the subject of self-awareness and self-preservation, using opportunities to challenge beliefs and systems unaligned with civil rights.
Michaela Freiburger, chairwoman of the Dubuque County Food Policy Council, will make connections between the arts, culture and food, as well as building community.
University of Dubuque professor of digital art and design and Bisignano Art Gallery director Alan Garfield will present, “Fake News: The Problem of Nationalism and Globalism in Art.”
Patrick Muller, of Kirkwood Community College, will follow, presenting, “Floods, Mosquitoes and MP3s,” featuring three short vignettes on the arts’ and humanities’ value as perspective and resource wells.
“Tea and Conversation with Artist Anna Metcalfe” will offer a participatory opportunity for attendees. Metcalfe, a ceramic artist and artistic development coordinator for Springboard for the Arts in St. Paul, Minn., will invite participants to share stories and experiences with water as part of a multi-year project called, “Upstream.” It is slated for exhibition at DuMA in 2020, along with the work of three other artists.
The final talk in the series will feature Lenore Howard, co-founder and artistic director of Dubuque theatrical troupe Fly-By-Night Productions. She will address the value of art — highlighting theater — that creates dialogue beyond the initial art encounter and that can inspire new perspectives and understanding of the human experience.
Schmitz described the event as twofold, sparking educational opportunities for attendees and establishing DuMA as a neutral ground for provocative conversation to take place.
Each talk also is free to attend.
“For someone like Lenore, learning about a relevant topic through the lens of theater is something that visitors might not have experienced,” he said. “I also hope that people coming to these events are able to see the museum as a place they can go to talk about politics and social justice issues. It’s not only a place for aesthetics.”