Shaping Iowas Creative Economy
Three creative forces forge businesses deeply rooted in Iowas economy.
By John Busbee
Three artists David B. Dahlquist, Sarah Grant-Hutchison and Mark Bogenrief serve as three cornerstones for Iowas economic future. While each displays an entrepreneurial individuality that burns with an unquenchable flame, they also share remarkable similarities: an unwavering belief in their vision, a passion for their art, and a penchant for success. Three creative-based businesses. Three different paths to success.
Creative, adaptable, quick to respond. Future business success increasingly relies on these traits. Iowa is at a crossroads as it shifts from traditional economies to identifying and developing new economies. Where that future leads has yet to be determined. Here are three examples of businesses that identified their niches, developed them, and continue to succeed.
Bonding to Iowa
David B. Dahlquist arrived in Iowa more than 20 years ago, via Wisconsin and New York. Sarah Grant-Hutchison, born in New York, raised in Ames, has established an artistic presence that echoes from coast to coast. Mark Bogenrief, in concert with wife and partner, Jeanne, turned a career crossroads into an internationally recognized art business.
All three businesses have incredibly strong ties to this state. Each has traveled different routes to achieve success. And in the process, they also have given much back to Iowa.
RDG Dahlquist Clayworks
David B. Dahlquist is an artist and a teacher. He also serves as the Chief Vision Officer for RDG Dahlquist Clayworks, a successful creative and architectural clay business based in Des Moines, Iowa.
Following his B.A. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and his M.F.A. from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Alfred, New York, the Artist-in-Residence job at the Des Moines Art Center drew David to Des Moines. His four years at the Art Center provided a springboard to develop teaching programs, which transitioned from there to Iowa State University to eventually establishing his own ceramics class program at his business, Dahlquist Clayworks, Inc. His classes now are incorporated with programs at the Art Center and several central Iowa colleges and universities.
David Dahlquists history with the greater Des Moines area and Iowa provided the important foundation for establishing and developing his business here. The people I have met have been absolutely terrific he explains. This community is the reason Iowa is my home. Des Moines is where he met and married his wife. Davids first transition from artist to business came in 1988 when he hired his first employee after he was awarded his first public art contract. Since then, David has been awarded and has successfully completed over 20 large-scale public commissions, including the highly acclaimed installations at several Iowa Department of Transportation interstate rest stops, viewed by hundreds of thousands of travelers. He currently has about 10 employees, with an increase in staff projected. After working out of his home and other sites, he moved into 316 SW 5th Street building during the summer of 1993. Today, that building, now known as Art 316, serves as his offices and studios with 18,000 sq. ft. of work space. His state-of-the-art kilns would be the envy of most universities.
Education a cornerstone of Dahlquists business
Education is an important element of his business. Through ever-expanding partnerships with the Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines Public Schools Community & Adult Education and several colleges and universities, David runs a full schedule of ceramics classes. He shoulders all the responsibility for providing space, equipment, insurance, staff, etc.; the partner organization refers students and gets a portion of the tuition. Many of his employees were former students.
One student, who was enrolled in his first Wednesday ceramics class, has become a best friend and business partner. RDG architect Davis Sanders owns the building at 316 SW 5th Street and has proven to be a staunch ally of David. Given the intrinsic connections to architectural projects new, restoration, residential and commercial it seems inevitable that the RDG and Dahlquist Clayworks merged. Art in architecture needs to be a consideration from the very beginning of a project, David states.
In his printed material, David describes his business as the poetry of connecting people, nature and art making things that matter. Education, public art, architectural art & restoration, murals, floors, tile work and more have become the elements of success for this business. Exciting projects in development include the education mural for the Iowa Hall of Pride, a collaboration with artist Paul Micich.
David remains humble and grateful for the many opportunities Iowa has provided. He credits a friend showing him how to live artfully. It has touched everything that I have dreamed of, aspired to. To learn about installation locations, visit www.dahlquistclayworks.com.
Sarah Grant-Hutchison was born in Rochester, New York. She was raised in Ames, Iowa by her parents John and Carol Grant and is the oldest of three. She graduated from Ames High School in 1972, attended Colorado State University and Iowa State University, and completed her studies at the University of Iowa in 1976, earning a B.F.A. in drawing and intaglio printmaking. She continued her education at the University of Iowa, earning an M.F.A. in intaglio printmaking (1978) and an M.F.A. in painting (1980). Job stints include Iowa State University, Des Moines Public Schools and the Des Moines Art Center.
Sarahs abstract paintings are currently represented at Olson-Larsen Gallery in Des Moines, Iowa. Her works are in permanent museums, corporate and private collections across the country. She has been awarded numerous grants and awards for her work.
The Growing Legacy of Sticks
Sticks origins date back to 1985 when Sarah Grant-Hutchison was commissioned to design a wooden nativity set for Better Homes & Gardens Decorative Woodcrafts magazine. At the time, Sarahs artistic background was solely focused on drawing and painting linear surfaces. This project challenged Sarah to incorporate her artistry onto a 3-D surface. Sarah found inspiration in some antique etched wooden furniture at a friends antique shop. With woodworking help from her father, John, she completed and sold one of the nativity sets to Decorative Woodcrafts.
In the late 80s, while speaking to a drawing class at Drake University, she met her future partner, Jim Lueders. Jim was a contractor whose carpentry expertise enabled Sarah to focus on drawing and painting. Their mutual talents dove-tailed into an ideal business match.
A December 1991 Better Homes and Gardens story about Sarah and her company, Origin Art Forms, solicited a large national response and an influx of orders. Long hours and steadfast determination focused on meeting the demands of the increased business. Workspace was expanded at the BMS Building. Sticks, Inc. was officially created in 1992, and, to understate the path to success, the company has flourished ever since. Sarah serves as the companys owner and creative director.
After a move to 316 SW 5th Street, in Des Moines for more production space and continued growth, Sticks finally reached a milestone in its development with the creation of its 28,000-square-feet headquarters and production facility on Des Moines southwest side. With a workforce of more than 130, Sticks definitely looks for trained artisans. Three-fourths of their staff works on the design floor, many with degrees from Iowa colleges.
Through all of this tremendous growth, Sticks has never received any economic funding from city, state, or federal government nor did it receive any grants from the Iowa Arts Council. The only tax break that Sticks has ever received was a 5-year abatement when they built their design studio.
I have utilized creative thinking both as an artist and as a business person, explains Sarah when asked about her companys success. Creative thinking is definitely the key ingredient to the growth of any successful business, but the success of Sticks comes from the collaborative minds of a lot of creative thinkers. She continues by saying that Sticks is not just me. Sticks is a result of the creative process stemming from the entire team of artists, woodworkers and office staff.
Because of the national reach of Sticks, many gallery owners come to Des Moines to visit their design studio and new retail gallery (in Des Moines trendy East Village at East 6th & Locust Streets). Visitors always express surprise as to the level of culture that our city offers. Sarah relates, continuing that, The opportunities for artists and cultural growth definitely exist here in the Midwest.
Sarah concludes with a few reflections about her business. I feel fortunate to have created a business where I can make a living by doing what I love to do, she explains. I love the creative process of being a business owner and I love the physical act of creating art. Im glad that Sticks enables other artists to do what they love to do as well. What I hope outsiders know is that the majority of us are independent artists outside of Sticks. While most people identify me only as the owner of Sticks, I am equally passionate about my abstract paintings.
Visit the showroom in Des Moines East Village, or their web site, www.sticks.com.
Bogenrief Studios L.L.C.
How does the kill floor of a meat packing plant tie into one of Iowas best success stories for creative economic development? The strike at the Iowa Beef Packer plant, where Mark and Jeanne Bogenrief both worked, provided the inauspicious beginnings of an incredible body of thousands of works of art. That moment in 1978 seemed to foreshadow how successful businesses today shifted from traditional into visionary business models. Mark and Jeanne are two such visionaries. As the days of large packing plants and other manufacturing jobs were waning, creative thinkers were finding their own niches for success.
The unexpected break from work gave Mark the chance to work on restoring stained glass at his fathers antique shop. He also decided to make a small window for their house. By doing this, exclaimed Mark, I found what I wanted to do the rest of my life.
A testament to the power of hard work and determination, and as a way to keep himself busy while on strike, Mark tried his hand at restoring old stained glass windows. Marks dormant passions in this medium were awakened. In time, his reputation as a stained and beveled glass artist has become well known and well earned. And his expertise as a conservator in the restoration and identification of historically significant works of art in stained glass, has also gained him a national reputation.
Passion and Affinity for Stained and Beveled Glass
With the exception of a series of training classes on beveling, Mark, a Vietnam veteran, is completely self-taught. Demonstrating an exceptional affinity to his craft, Mark is one of Americas leading experts in stained and beveled glass. His work and skill at creating hand cut and polished bevels was so outstanding that his work and expertise was referenced and featured in the 1982 book, How to Work in Beveled Glass by Anita and Seymour Isenberg. The quality of his craftsmanship has been compared to Tiffany.
Although the beginnings of Bogenrief Studios LLC are humble, their operation has grown into a series of sites with over 20,000 square feet of production space and a large showroom. Bogenrief Studios is able to handle commissions and site specific installations of almost any size and complexity. His work is in both public and private collections across the nation.
Belief in Cultural Districts and Creative Economy
After a year, begins Mark, referring to that fateful layoff, my wife and I decided to start our own business. We started in one room of our house and the next thing we knew we were living in one room. Their commitment to their vision, coupled with their willingness to make sacrifices and literally immerse themselves in their business by making their home their workplace, is now paying the dividends they envisioned.
As business grew, they started to employ some of the neighbors. When they needed a larger place to work, they found a building in Merrill, Iowa. Their continued growth included purchasing another building across the street and adding more workers. Then, two more buildings. They had grown to 20 employees. When their son, Jesse, expressed interest, they added a glass blowing operation that employed five people. Their other son, Seth, also is a glass blower. The Bogenriefs growing vision to start an art community in Merrill was presented to town leaders. The town declined. As Mark simply stated, Alas to no avail.
They re-shaped their vision. Mark and Jeanne had been attending many seminars on using art as an economic development tool for rural areas. This led them to three different northwest Iowa communities: Sutherland, Spencer and Cherokee.
These towns are excited about developing cultural districts, Mark explains, enthusiastically. They see art as economic development. Their new vision includes a network of studios and showrooms, with the primary production studio in Sutherland, in a former OBrien County middle school. This site will be open by appointment only for group tours or special events. Studio 1 in Spencer (21 West 5th Street) and Studio 2 in Cherokee (503 West Main Street) both will offer displays of stained glass windows, lamps, domes and glass blowing demonstrations.
The Bogenriefs explain, (We) built the business with sheer determination, setting goals and working hard to reach those goals. Two buildings were purchased in Cherokee for token amounts in an effort by the Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation and the Cherokee Industrial Corporation to attract the artisans. Their operation will grow to a staff of 40; on-the-job training is included. With Mark as the lead artist, they have hired additional artists.
The Bogenriefs are energized about Iowas potential for a creative economy. The towns that we moved into have provided both support and incentives and been just very helpful in any of our needs, they explain. We are looking forward to the cultural districts because of both art incentives and historical buildings incentives. They continued, explaining how Iowa supported their development, too, and expressing their gratitude to the support received from the DCA and its director, Anita Walker. Their legacy will be entwined with Iowas in the forthcoming Iowa Hall of Pride, which will depict Iowas young participants in athletics, music, speech and other activities. The Bogenriefs have been commissioned to create stained glass domes and walls of glass throughout the site.
The Bogenriefs are the first to acknowledge that their success has been supported by many people, businesses and organizations along the way. And, although they were courted by other states in recent years to move their stained glass business out of Iowa, they ultimately found the support and encouragement in Iowa to build their business here. To learn more, call 712-540-3179 or visit www.bogenriefstudios.com.
Cashing in on a Bright Cultural Future
These business owners share an inner fire and passion that manifests itself in many ways. Iowa must find ways to encourage new creative businesses. Clinging to the way things were can only hasten the decline of Iowas economic and community vibrancy. The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) wants to do whatever it can to help new creative economies develop. The Governors Iowa 2010 plan supports such successful development, also.
Initiatives such as the DCAs Cultural Caucuses this fall provide a tremendous statewide forum to strengthen networks to support such economic development. Communities such as Cherokee are looking for such businesses to help energize new growth in their regions. The DCAs new cultural district designation program can help establish this new growth.
The owners of each of these three businesses have demonstrated ingenuity, determination and a focused conviction in their visions. The visions would be revised and redirected through the process, but each has rooted itself in Iowa, with their products reaching well beyond our states borders.
And, ultimately, the visions become shared with other Iowans. The patrons of creative economy will embrace these new opportunities and find a tremendous source of pride in which to invest our states future.
"Cultural Caucuses 2004"
What are they and how will they help Iowas creative economy?
By John Busbee
In June of 2000, Governor Thomas Vilsack implemented a 10-year strategic plan for the State called Iowa 2010. Based upon recommendations from the Governors Strategic Planning Council, Iowa 2010 became Iowas road map for a stronger future, with the mission of helping Iowans initiate and sustain real change and meaningful growth through education, networking and resource development.
A year later, the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) created its own initiative. Imagine Iowa 2010 became a statewide cultural plan for the arts, history, sciences and humanities. A series of statewide forums established the initial goals for Imagine Iowa 2010.
The DCA commissioned Iowa State Universitys economics professor, David Swenson, to create a Creative Economy Study. The results were presented during an unprecedented Creative Economy Unconference at the State Historical Building in March of 2003. Key findings included: Workers in Iowas creative industries earn 60 percent more than other workers; Iowas creative occupations grew 3.5 times faster than all other Iowa occupations in the past decade; The growth of Iowas creative occupations significantly exceeds the national average; and, growth in science and technology in Iowa is correlated with growth of the arts.
The Unconference featured Dr. Richard Florida. He is the author of the national bestseller, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How Its Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, a book acclaimed in The New York Times and other major media for showing how some of the most profound changes in our workplace and culture stem from the rise of creativity as an economic force. It is important to note that Floridas approach deals with all professions, not just the arts, and involves strategies that deal with the inclusive issues of quality of life.
Imagine Iowa 2010: Great Places is the theme of this years Quadrennial Cultural Caucuses. The DCA will conduct 11 cultural caucuses through October 26, each electing six delegates. A statewide caucus November 8 at the State Historical Building will celebrate the work that has been done since the last cultural caucus, and determine how to continue the progress. The goal is for Iowans to set a cultural agenda for the next four years, in order to make the state a better place to live, work and raise a family. These goals will be based on the initial eight goals set by the 2001 forums.
The remaining cultural caucuses will be held as follows:
Oct. 11: Davenport, Davenport Public Library
Oct. 18: Burlington, Art Guild of Burlington
Oct. 19: Cedar Rapids, Czech and Slovak Museum
Oct. 21: Des Moines, State Historical Building
Oct. 25: Mason City, Charles H. MacNider Museum
Oct. 26: Fort Dodge, Blanden Memorial Art Museum
Nov. 8: Des Moines, Statewide Cultural Caucus, State Historical Building
We are thrilled to have input from our constituents to further our vision of culture in Iowa, Walker said. Weve heard a lot about the creative economy in Iowa, and this gets at the very heart of it. What makes Iowa communities great places? Were going to take what weve learned so far and advance it to the next level.
One important goal discussed was to explore how the DCA and Imagine Iowa 2010 can connect to other entities. These potential partners, among many listed, include the Iowa Division of Tourism, the Iowa Department of Economic Development, media and corporate businesses.
The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs has primary responsibility for development of the states interest in the areas of the arts, history, and other cultural matters. To learn more and get involved, call 515-281-6412 or visit the DCAs web site, www.culturalaffairs.org.