It’s About the Process

Perhaps more than any other arts festival, WiP is a thoroughly community affair. Along with being open to submissions from all of the artists in the city and taking place in community spaces such as Public Space ONE and the Iowa City Senior Center, WiP emphasizes audience participation by being, itself, a workshop.

As the name suggests, participants in the festival are required to present work that is only partially completed. The people in attendance then offer ideas on where the projects could go.

This rather unique event was created by Richard Wiebe and Andrew Ritchey, both graduate students in Cinema and Comparative Literature at the University of Iowa. Initially conceived during the Iowa City Experimental Film Festival in 2008, Wiebe credits Ritchey with dreaming up “the sort of festival that they wanted to go to,” one that was interdisciplinary and allowed artists to meet.

The first festival, held in 2009, captured this spirit. Visitors, normally relegated to the role of casual observer, took an active role in the creative process; artists working in disparate media were able to mingle and critique work in a judgment-free, constructive space; and collaborations occurred which most likely would not have outside WiP.

In addition to the work of local artists, WiP 2010 has three visiting artists in residence who will present work. The first is Robert Todd–a filmmaker who was trained in painting and works with sound art–who will present a collaborative piece that he is currently working on. Joining Todd will be Flint Jameson, a photographer and performance artist who also runs the magazine Veneer, which Ritchey calls “an art object unto itself.”

A series of artists rather than a singular one, the International Writing Program (IWP) is the last visiting artist for this year’s WiP. IWP is a collection of writers and literary professionals from around the world that live in Iowa City for three months to discuss and improve one another’s work. The IWP will hold a workshop on the idea of works-in-progress and many of its writers will give readings over the course of the weekend.

This may seem like a festival that could happen over any weekend in any town, but Wiebe and Ritchey beg to differ. For the founders of WiP, Iowa City might be the only place that it could happen. On the strength of the UI’s various creative MFA programs and the community spaces where these and other artists display their work year-round, Ritchey believes that “Iowa City has an exciting energy.” Wrapping all that excitement up in a relatively small package, Iowa City presents rare opportunities for conversation and collaboration between great artists from many backgrounds.

Ritchey explains that an arts festival like WiP “would be a lot harder to mount in a place like New York, Los Angeles, Portland or Chicago, which have much more competitive scenes. Iowa City has a workshop energy, and a big city scene would kill that.”

For Wiebe, this workshop energy “allows for interesting juxtapositions: high school students and senior citizens and filmmakers. You can go to a choreographed dance piece by a first-year MFA student and have a well-established filmmaker provide feedback.” As a result, Iowa City, according to Wiebe, provides a “level playing field” for artists to present their work to a caring, interested and sympathetic audience of fellow artists that will provide useful comments on how to take unfinished work towards completion.