By Molly Burt-Westvig, Iowa City
“The only constant is change” is a pretty dismal quote we’ve been hearing in our Zoom meetings and seeing in plenty of therapizing Facebook posts — but it’s also something my dad tells me pretty much every phone call lately. The original quote is attributed to Heraclitus, the first to write about how shared experience creates unity.
Creating community through experience was the mission of my parents’ business, Fired Up Iowa City, for 22 years. The wealth of friendships and relationships that formed around Fired Up has been the only thing in the green as business persevered through shifting markets, a crazy new fad for drunk painting parties and, uh, the internet. COVID-19 is, of course, the final nail in the coffin for any business that thrives on interaction and community in meet-space.
My parents, Michael Burt and Nancy Westvig, opened Fired Up Iowa City in 1998 because they wanted to share the joyful act of making art you can drink your coffee out of. Potters themselves, they’d been making and painting ceramics out of garages since they first met, inviting friends over to work on projects, catch up and create.
My parents have always believed in creativity and community-building, making the arts accessible and approachable to anyone who walked it. Fired Up fulfilled that mission in an incredible way over the years. It’s been humbling to watch customers become lifelong friends. Fired Up has seen so many children grow up — they may have stamped their baby hands on a tile the first time but by now they’re painting coordinated dinner sets.
Without Fired Up I probably would not be an artist. I grew up at Fired Up and spent countless hours there, accidentally creating the foundation for many of the qualities I rely on in my own creative practice. It’s easy to look for inspiration in success stories, to see a business succeed and feel encouraged, but it’s arguably more valuable to see people who care about a mission centered around community instead of income, and watch them persevere through difficult times without the need of a light on the horizon. I don’t think I could ever thank my parents enough for the impact Fired Up has had on me, and it’s with a very heavy heart I say goodbye to the weird and wonderful creative space they built over so many years.
I highly recommend everyone go paint a commemorative mug (or shot glass if that’s your speed) to commemorate two people who worked to make art as accessible, unpretentious and community-focused as they could, and truly loved what they did for 22 years. Fired Up will be closing on Dec. 15, 2020. They’ve been assembling take-home project kits and have plenty of inventory for painting on the porch in a parka.