The confluence of cultural connections is common, unexpected and naturally revealed by serendipity and happenstance. This article honors a very influential man in our community and what his life and death has meant to me.
Kicking off the Des Moines Arts Festival
I attended the Des Moines Arts Festival Preview Celebration in late May. This is a celebration of all the new programming and upcoming community engagement that’s woven into this year’s festival by staff, board members, and the hardworking volunteers who support the festival. This celebration recognizes the success of a great annual event, while providing an opportunity to honor behind-the-scenes support and volunteer efforts. Festivities center upon the unveiling of the signature art piece that serves as the annual festival poster and representation of the year’s Des Moines Arts Festival commemorative artist; this year’s commission going to artist Brice McCasland. It’s a fun springtime gathering that reconnects the festival community before the intensity of final event preparations.
However, this year’s Preview Celebration was bittersweet, as Trudy Hurd introduced a new festival award in honor of her late husband, David, a long time supporter of the Arts Festival. The selection of Larrasa Kabel as the inaugural recipient of the David Hurd Innovator of the Year Award felt fitting; her drawings transcend overdone daily online portraits and invite us to look closer at ourselves and the cultural context in which we live.
Remembering David Hurd
David made the ultimate statement by taking his own life after years of declining health. His decision drew both praise and critical discourse regarding an individual’s right to terminate his/her own life and to do so in such a public fashion.
I am not privy to the reasons behind Dave’s decision nor the intent of making it public. My relationship with Dave has long been defined through my experience as his adolescent neighbor, then a young man who grew up running through Dave’s backyard just west of Drake University. For me, the significance of Dave’s passing has been elevated by this relationship, in part because Dave challenged me. Not by asserting a new perspective or idea – a common description of interactions with Dave – but because he was one of the most consistent males in my life as I grew into adulthood. He did this without asserting himself, but being present, by showing up when I would least expect it.
As I sprouted from boy to teenager, and grew into a young man during boarding school and college, I didn’t understand the relevance of this connection. But Dave honored each transition in my life as a matter of practice. Long after he had moved from our neighborhood – a wildly diverse, but tight-knit corner of families – he attended my wedding. Then later in life he visited the funerals of the families still rooted in his old neighborhood. Dave provided a genuine continuity, something that provided encouragement in my life, without saying a word. Simply put, he was always there for me.
So I reflect upon his passing and his choice to make a statement, ending his humanity as a critique of social norms and our collective discomfort with death and spiritual transition.
Dave showed the gravitas of a well-disciplined artist, one challenging convention in order to reflect society to itself and catalyze systemic transformation. Artists possess the capacity to make the unavailable accessible. Sometimes the sublime is beautiful, sometimes it’s intense and painful; but the art reframes reality so we can ask deeper questions about ourselves and the world that surrounds us. Art mirrors the subtle, disguised facets of the human condition, exposing vulnerabilities and stimulating the potential for dialogue and exploration, even when the conversation feels awkward and uncomfortable.
Bringing Artists Together
As an artist and entrepreneur, I find that dialogue, exploration and collaboration have long been important to my work, especially when facilitating a community-centric project. So I was pleased to make a new connection at the Preview Celebration. I started a conversation with the commemorative artist Brice McCasland and we immediately began looking for ways to enhance the connectivity of national artists that convene on Des Moines each summer and wondering how to stimulate engaging conversation among them.
During a three-day festival where these individuals are obliged to focus on the business of their art, how could we facilitate an opportunity for them to connect just as people who share the commonality of creative thought?
We decided to co-host a coffee conversation each morning before the festival opens its doors to the public. Dubbed the Creative Cafe, this morning arts hub is a new opportunity to foster rapport among artists and further extend the hospitality that makes the Des Moines Arts Festival so incredibly successful. Mars Cafe generously offered to supply the coffee, perking up our minds and bodies each morning.
I look forward to meeting new visual artists, filmmakers and musicians this week, and hope that the Creative Cafe can spur dialogue and additional collaborations, and help reinforce the fabric of our cultural community here in Central Iowa, extending threads into the broader weave across the country. This is a goal that may not be wholly inspired by the personal legacy David left in my life, but one that may extend his consistent presence long into the future.
Because we at Silent Rivers believe that art is a true essence of life, we proudly sponsor the Des Moines Arts Festival and invite you to this free event taking place June 24-26, 2016 in downtown’s Western Gateway Park.