Reiman Gallery in Morrill Hall was quickly packed at 4 p.m.as attendees flocked to the opening of the reACT exhibition series’ first exhibition, “It Starts with Us: Civility and the 21st Century Land Grant Mission.”
There were over 30 individuals in attendance who included students, staff, faculty and Ames community members. The attendees talked amongst each other as they pondered over each art piece, creating an environment not usually found in the “average” art gallery.
José Antonio Rosa, professor of marketing, proposed the topic for the exhibition and was in attendance to present opening remarks on the exhibition.
“Seeds for this exhibition were sewn over a year ago when the Campus Climate Survey findings identified that incivility was a concern on campus,” Rosa said. “Peter Martin, then Faculty Senate President, asked me to undertake curation of a reACT exhibition as part of the campus effort to increase civility.”
Rosa went on to talk about how civility is beautiful and has an enduring appeal but falls prey to fears and thoughtless reactions, and explained how this exhibition is designed to help attendees in the pursuit of civility in perspective, to highlight its history and to inspire attendees to co-construct civility daily.
There was a whiteboard where attendees could place reactions to the exhibition, and it was quickly filled with notes about what everyone can do to increase civility in the Iowa State community.
The exhibition itself included 16 art pieces varying in style and medium, all of which are a part of the permanent collection owned by University Museums.
Rosa worked extensively with Lilah Anderson, a University Museums coordinator, to curate the collection for the exhibition.
“I try and stay pretty informed politically and about the communities I live in, and because of the topic of civility I really wanted to come because I am worried about the lack of civility in many conversations and civility lacking in people who are elected as leaders, in my opinion, who are not being very good leaders because of their lack of civility and other traits,” said Jim Patton, a retired member of University Extension and Outreach and an Ames community member.
Three of the art pieces were in display cases spread throughout the room.
The first was “Abraham Lincoln” by Christian Peterson, which was made of painted plaster. Rosa described Lincoln as having a conviction as strong as wood, stone or metal and asked attendees to reflect on what went well and what went wrong with Lincoln’s ideals for a civil society.
The second was a silver tea set from Tiffany & Co from the 20th Century. Rosa described the idea of sitting down to have tea as a space for understanding and conversation but also a signal for distinction and distance because not everyone is invited to the ceremony.
The third was “Plaque” by Sharon Nelson Vaux and was made from clay. The piece depicts a group of people trying to claw their way out from the teeth of a zipper and it closes on them. Rosa discussed how plaque can be invasive and destructive and asks attendees to think about how individual-level incivility is similar to plaque.
The other 13 art pieces in the exhibition all hung on the walls of the Reiman Gallery and were of many different mediums and sizes.
“Summer Landscape” by Richard Charles Zoellner, a lithograph, and “Storm Over Manhattan” by Louis Lozowick, a lithograph, were paired together. Rosa explained how the societal constructs, like buildings, in the lithographs can be fragile when it comes to raw nature and how every society has stormy potentials, and they must either be prevented or ridden out.
“Dreaded Area” by Marvin Cone was an oil painting on canvas. Rosa talked about how Cone was a soldier during World War I and this painting may have been inspired by it and that the viewer should be reminded that although creating a civil society takes hard work and discomfort, the alternative is far worse.
“Jack Trice” and “George Washington Carver” were both selenium-toned silver print photos by George Christensen and were paired together. Rosa discussed Trice’s and Carver’s roles at Iowa State and their impact on the community and asked attendees to reflect on how Iowa State was fulfilling its role as a land grant institution by admitting Carver and Trice to the university and in what ways it failed in that role.
“America in the Making: Lewis and Clark” and “America in the Making: The Mayflower Compact,” both oil paintings on hardboard by Newell Convers Wyeth, were paired together. Rosa talked about representation in the paintings and representation at the times featured and asked attendees to reflect on how the Mayflower Compact and Lewis and Clark’s expedition suggest people that are different be treated.
“My Home” by Jeanine Coupe Ryding was a woodcut featuring a head without a face and many lines crossing it. Rosa described how the piece seemed to depict the complex emotions that the pursuit of civility can elicit and asked attendees to reflect on how people can overcome those complexities and contradictions.
“Three Way Tie” by Sarah Grant was an oil painting on paper. Rosa explained how the complex art piece is similar to how society is complex with various races and ethnicities that are visually and texturally diverse are nevertheless tied.
“Lincoln,” a color etching on paper by Mauricio Lasansky, and an untitled oil painting on canvas depicting Benjamin Franklin by Orr Cleveland were paired together. Rosa discussed the greatness of both American political leaders and how they upheld U.S. civility and asked attendees to think about what they would think of U.S. society today.
“Just a Few Dissidents in South America,” an ink and pencil on paper piece by Frank Miller, and “Love Me, Love My Boondoggle,” a pen and ink on paper piece by Jay Norwood Darling, were both political cartoons and paired together. Rosa explained how the cartoons created in 1936 and 1969 are still relevant and seem to reflect today’s political conversations, and asked attendees to reflect on how the similarities strike them.
“Chemists,” a lithograph by Chet Harmon LaMore, and “Study of Iron Stove,” a pencil and charcoal on brown craft paper piece by John Vincent Bloom, were paired together. Rosa talked about how only men are seen working in the laboratory while only women are working around the stove, and asked attendees to reflect on the role of gender and gender stereotypes in civility and the workplace.