DCA seeks input on arts, history, music needs

Cultural amenities like concerts, museums, public art and history are a big factor in a community’s quality of life, according to organizers of a “community conversation” coming to Fort Dodge on Monday.

The conversation is one of many going on throughout the state, sponsored by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, to learn how it can better serve Iowa communities.

“The most important part is the listening,” said DCA Director Mary Cownie.

Cownie hopes to hear from business owners, artists, musicians – and everyone else, she said; anyone affected in any way by the cultural elements of the area.

“It will be questions like, why do they live in Fort Dodge, what do they like to do in Fort Dodge, what do they do for fun, is their community culturally vibrant, what makes it vibrant, what is missing?” Cownie said. “How could the DCA fill some of these needs or be a better public partner?

“It also talks about what makes you proud of Iowa. … What are the stories of Fort Dodge you want to know more about, and want to make sure are being recorded and kept for future years and future generations?”

The conversations were sparked by a revitalization of the Iowa State Historical Museum, which is run by the DCA.

“They’re starting a discussion with the premise that the state’s going to invest millions of dollars in an upgraded historical museum. But they want Iowans to understand that money’s not all going to be spent in Des Moines,” said Jim Kersten, vice president of External Relations and Government Affairs at Iowa Central Community College.

Monday’s event will feature state Rep. Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge, and state Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, Cownie said.

The meetings will include a brief introduction from the DCA followed by an active discussion facilitated by its master planning consultants.

Kersten said Iowa Central is excited to help “foster that cultural and historical growth and activity in our region.”

“I think what it does is enhances our quality of life. People in our region are looking to participate in historical and cultural activities,” he said. “We’ve got the Karl King band, we’ve got the symphony, we’ve got the Blanden Museum, two very robust non-profit groups, the Deardorf trust and the Smeltzer trust that donate significantly to the region.”

Randy Kuhlman, chief executive officer of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation, will attend.

“It’s important that citizens from Fort Dodge provide input and give voice to the opportunities that we want to embrace here in the Fort Dodge/Webster County area,” Kuhlman said.

Kuhlman said Cownie has toured the area, including stops at the public library, the Blanden Memorial Art Museum, the Ringland-Smeltzer House, and the Fort Dodge parks and trail system.

“She was pleasantly surprised at the amount of amenities we have here that are historical in nature or in the area of fine arts,” he said.

Webster City artist Maureen Seamonds said all forms of art are vital to a community.

“Culture is an important part of a community’s way they see themselves and present themselves,” Seamonds said. “Data shows us it’s good for us. So I’m interested in that.”

Seamonds taught art for many years at Iowa Central Community College. She said Fort Dodge has worked through the DCA to present public art. Sculptures near the library, at the college and by the Kenyon Road bridge “create a community image that is interesting and generates conversation,” she said.

This conversation isn’t just about visual art, and it’s not just for artists to attend.

“They don’t have to be artists, but they have to care what their community culture looks like,” Seamonds said. “If you enjoy theater and music and visual art, that should matter.”

“I think being aware of your visual environment matters. I think it affects us fairly profoundly, whether we pay attention to it on a daily basis or not. It’s a subterranean awareness, that when architecture and art create beauty, we thrive.”