Home is where the art is?: Exploring UI theme semester American Dream through notions of home

Going Home Conversation Series

MERGE — Saturdays, March 16, April 20 and May 18 at 11 a.m.

MERGE space in downtown Iowa City. — image by Jason Smith

Home can be a lot of things: where the heart is, where you hang your hat, or any number of old adages on printed canvases people hang in their living rooms. Home can mean a lot of different things to people, but an important part of being at home is security and inclusion.

Iowa City is home to a vibrant community of people with a strong identity. It also plays that role at least temporarily for a host of people at the University of Iowa.

Saturday, March 16 will see the first installment of Going Home, a three-part series of conversations hosted collaboratively by UI’s Office of Outreach and Engagement, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and MERGE.

Seeking to find a common ground somewhere between the university and the Iowa City community, these conversations are part of a university-led effort to find ways to better open up the school, and all of its exciting and diverse events, to the community.

The conversations are inspired by both the current university theme semester, American Dream, as well as Going Home, a project by UI Stanley Museum of Art Associate Curator Vero Rose Smith (which ran at the Figge Museum of Art in Davenport September 2018 through February 2019). Utilizing these interactions between public engagement and art, this series of talks examine just what it means to call Iowa “home.”

“As I was researching objects to include in the show, I realized that some of the stories I wanted to tell — hyper-local, current day stories — could not be represented solely by the artworks included in the exhibition,” Smith said in an email. “I hope to share some of the stories I have unearthed from this research and to in turn learn from those who share this time and place with me. I love hearing about what brings others comfort, joy, and a sense of belonging.”

“As a Midwesterner but an Iowa-transplant,” she continued, “I still feel on the outside of home here sometimes.”

The series is composed of a community conversation, a panel discussion and, finally, a public forum. Scholar and instructor (and frequent Little Village contributor) Daniel Boscaljon will host each forum, with the final installment being a continuation of his own public arts project, Coffee with Dan.

Part of the ‘Going Home’ pop-up exhibit in the Ped Mall last winter. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

“The university’s Theme Semester committee (this year’s theme is American Dream) was intentional about including community members — which is why I was asked to be involved — as part of their work in thinking through how to invite the community to university functions, and to help students get to know the community beyond the campus. From my perspective, I think that “student” and “community member” will probably be a label appropriate to everyone who attends by virtue of presence.” said Boscaljon in the same email conversation.

“I hope that everyone who attends becomes more thoughtful — both in terms of critical thinking skills with an attention to how our contexts participate in determining our thinking, and also in terms of having a deeper form of compassion–here toward groups and individuals that might not feel able to be at home, here.” he said.

Saturday’s talk will examine the ideas of space and place, including conversations over the limitations and obstacles that some face in calling Iowa home, using the Going Home series as a backdrop.

“Art is an important part of what makes space a home, and so will be threaded throughout the conversation. The way that our homes are built, however, tend to lead to the exclusion of some groups as ‘not belonging’ in a home, which in turn leads to alternative models of communal formation/individual development. We’ll be happy to spotlight how this has been the case with a few different groups in Iowa City’s relatively brief history.” Boscaljon said.

“I like to think of art as a touchstone, a shared point of connection, for deeper conversation,” Smith added. “By looking at the same thing at the same time in a shared place, all in attendance will be invited into a communal meditation on meanings of home. Daniel’s incredible moderation will surely take this conversation down winding, infinitely interesting paths, but some of our shared concerns include inequality in access to physical shelter, to the histories of the places we share, and to fulfilling and meaningful connection with other people.” Smith added.

With art as a focal lens for attendees, Saturday’s talk will give people the chance to learn about and share different perspectives on Iowa as home. Most importantly, the talk is open to all members of the community, not just those who are university-adjacent.

“Events such as this are really geared towards curious adult audiences excited about art and culture! We hope that ‘university’ might be a proxy for ‘learning,’ and that conversations originating in the research of scholars such as myself but presented as a public forum can bridge the perceived divide between students and community,” Smith said. “Many of our students, faculty and staff are deeply involved in projects beyond campus, and our community is fluid.”

Saturday’s forum, as well as the following two events (April 20 and May 18, respectively) will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at MERGE. Regardless of where you are from, what you do, you will get the chance to come in, take off your proverbial shoes and be home.

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