Our Town: Reclaiming the Narrative is an exhibition about individual agency, curated by Drake Professor Lenore Metrick-Chen. Agency is created from necessity, often motivated by frustration. But agency signifies that there is a choice. It pertains to our ability to choose our actions, or non-actions, and that is the foundation for all freedom.
The exhibition celebrates the works of the many Black people in our community whose individual choices and agency has led them to civic engagement and community building, resulting in social change improving the lives of all inhabitants. Our Town can only offer a sampling of these acts of agency and individual bravery, but it provides space to add to the exhibition and validate others, famous or obscure in our community, whose actions have made a difference. In this way, the exhibition helps retell the history of narrative of Iowa to include witnesses from the small but vital Black communities that have shaped our state.
The objective for this exhibition in the upcoming years is for it to travel to venues across Iowa, both typical art venues and also non-traditional spaces, for instance YMCA’s and libraries as well as museums and galleries. Wherever displayed, Our Town will gather local stories. Some of these stories will then be included at the next exhibition sites to which it travels. The exhibition will get larger and larger as it travels, acquiring more voices. Although I am the curator, I foresee my presence in the exhibition diminishing as the exhibition overflows with local stories.
The exhibit was created to be versatile. It has shown at art venues and at celebrations, schools and social centers of various kinds. Since its creation in 2018, the exhibition has already shown at the Anderson Gallery at Drake University, at the Iowa Events Center for I’ll Make Me a World Iowa, at the historic Black Grubb Street YMCA, and at Central Campus High School in Des Moines. It has recently shown in Burlington Iowa’s Juneteenth celebration, and is scheduled to travel to the Blanden Art Museum in Fort Dodge, Iowa, October through December 2019.
In a protected venue, it can include antique and original objects, while in more open venues it can be reconfigured without them. At the YMCA, the 46′ long time line of the Black Panther’s Breakfast initiative was place on the curved wall of the running track!
Our Town is a traveling exhibition, traveling across and around Iowa. If you know of a site where you’d like the exhibition to travel, please contact me at Lmetrickchen@drake.edu.