Cultural: News, Travel & Trendsetters

Jeff Fleming



2009 is the best year yet for the Des Moines Art Center. We are presenting significant exhibition projects, enhancing our physical infrastructure, building new audiences, and opening a new sculpture park in the heart of the city. Challenging times often lead to creative thinking, and we believe this is the moment to reevaluate how the Art Center, with its three extraordinary buildings by Eliel Saarinen, I.M. Pei, and Richard Meier as well as its internationally acclaimed collection of modern and contemporary art, accomplishes its mission.

The economic crisis is forcing us to create new methodologies for doing almost everything, from exhibitions to marketing to fundraising. Our community remains supportive, but our major challenge comes from diminishing returns on endowment investments. We realize that we do not necessarily have to do less; we just have to do what we do differently. Most importantly, the staff works to ensure that the institution is relevant to our community. A recent example is our major exhibition, After Many Springs: Regionalism, Modernism and the Midwest. This project contributed significantly to the overall cultural record while finding a noteworthy relationship to our community. The response, both at home and beyond, was impressive. While this way of thinking is not always possible and not continuously required, contributing to and positively shaping our community should be.

The Art Center is doing this with the creation of the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, which opened in September. This unique collaboration between the city, the Art Center, and numerous donors is four-and-a-half acres in size with 24 major works by artists including Mark di Suvero, Jaume Plensa, Richard Serra, and Louise Bourgeois. This park has literally changed the aesthetic, cultural, economic, and social landscape of the community as it greets every downtown worker and visitor daily. By following our intuition and by positioning ourselves as a leader in the field, we have taken risks, and we will continue to do so even in the current climate.