November’s First Friday welcomes Cedar Rapids artist Jason Everett

First Fridays: Jason Everett

FilmScene—Ped Mall — Friday, Nov. 1 at 5 p.m.

Closing Reception: Jason Everett

Kirkwood Community College — Thursday, Nov. 14 at 11:15 a.m.

Part of the “More Friends Than the Mountains” exhibit. — courtesy of the artist

Beneath the flow of readings, shows and other events and activities that spring up on occasion in Iowa City, there are many gems that glimmer as steady, regular presences. One of these is the First Fridays program, a monthly happy hour with art discussion curated by the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art. Housed in Hotel Vetro when it began in April of 2011, the program moved to FilmScene on the Ped Mall in late 2014, a partnership which has continued through the 2015 academic year and into the present. This site will host Jason Everett, the featured First Fridays artist for November, on Nov. 1 from 5-7 p.m.

Everett will exhibit an incredibly timely photography series that originated in a project entitled “More Friends Than the Mountains.” He developed the project as a way to gather community members, national art suppliers, international non-profit organizations and Kurdish government entities together to conduct art activities with children in Northern Iraq/Kurdistan. The series illuminates aspects of Kurdish life beyond the instability caused by geopolitical struggles with Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

In a recent conversation with Everett about his art, he discussed his time in the Dawidiya camp for displaced Yazidis; after media attention had shifted to Mosul, the refugees gathered there were left more or less neglected. One stand-out moment, he said, was as he was taking a picture of the camp manager: They commented to him, “You could have brought food, medicine, but you brought something more important: joy and laughter. They need that more than anything right now.”

Everett’s interest in the area was fueled by his time in the U.S. military: He has served since 2004, and has been stationed in Iraq (2005-2006) and Afghanistan (2010-2011); he also lived for a while on the West Bank. A Cedar Rapids native and graduate of both Kirkwood College and the University of Iowa (with a degree in international relations and a certificate in non-profit management), Everett has coordinated several global art projects with concrete humanitarian ends designated to bring both necessities and joys to inhabitants of other countries.

His projects have, at various times, made use of origami, graffiti, kites and skateboards, and he has coordinated groups, artists and children in locations from Cedar Rapids and Chicago to Cuba, Uganda and Rwanda. With his trademark humility, Everett credits his success in these endeavors to serendipity.

All of his travel is what piqued and cultivated his interest in art. Photography and writing were initially just ways to communicate with people back home when he was serving in Iraq; now they also allow him to collaborate with partners and sponsors for his work.

“I kind of understood what everyone saw at home,” said Everett, who had watched images of war in Iraq when his father served during the first invasion. “I captured some of those images, but also some of the beautiful moments and the culture. My time in the military informed my photography, and I saw that I could effectively capture and communicate things for others and myself.”

Part of the “More Friends Than the Mountains” exhibit. — courtesy of the artist

It is clear that Everett’s “serendipity” is truly the investment of a lot of time in connecting with people who actively engage in things that strike his curiosity. For example, he was inspired by a picture of a child flying a kite in a refugee camp in Jordan, captioned “every time I fly a kite, I feel free,” to contact kite enthusiasts in Iowa communities to provide him with information about kiting. This led him to Clear Lake, Iowa, and a group that hosts a kiting festival each winter and who were excited to work with him.

Another part of Friday’s exhibit includes the Hope mural, which was installed in Cedar Rapids on the 11th anniversary of the 2008 flood. That project evolved similarly to the rest, Everett said. It started with a goal of connecting artists together to collaboratively develop a mural in two countries. He cast a wide net at first, emailing everyone from Shepard Fairey (who created the iconic Obama “Hope” poster) to graffiti artists in St. Louis and Chicago.

Eventually, “it started becoming clear what would work and what would be the most impactful,” Everett said, “and that’s when we knew it’d be a local community — CR/IC — partnership with two artists in Kurdistan, and that the best way to do it was to take giant canvases, prep them, do two here and take two there.”

Everett’s favorite part of the murals, he said, was witnessing the artistic process of painters as they created on the canvas.

“More Friends Than the Mountains” is also currently on display at Kirkwood College in Cedar Rapids through Nov. 15, with a reception on Nov. 14 at 11:15 a.m.

Part of the “More Friends Than the Mountains” exhibit. — courtesy of the artist

Everett is excited about this First Friday event, both as a gathering of colleagues and friends and as a timely opportunity to present his content.

“We’ll have [in attendance] a representative of the Kurdish center in Illinois, the artists from Iowa who did the Hope mural, a veteran artist … people who were meaningful to the project and who I got to know through the project,” he said. “But I also would say with the situation with the Kurds in Syria, and people are just now learning about the Kurds and becoming interested — it’s an opportunity to expand the frame of reference.”

This First Friday event is part of a transition for the program. According to Elizabeth Wallace, the manager of communications, marketing and membership for the Stanley Museum, the artists until this academic year were nominated and selected by the Stanley’s Members Council, which has been put on hiatus as the museum transitions to a new building. Past artists have included students and programs from the School of Art and Art History and the UI Center for the Book.

Now, Wallace says, the program is evolving: “We are now transitioning to a juried-selection process with open calls listed under Events on the museum’s website.”

One hopes that future selections will be as beautiful and inspiring as Everett’s work.

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