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BIGGEST Opening Exhibit in Heritage Gallery History!

When the doors opened at 4 pm on the first Monday in May 2023, The FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ARTISTS occupied space like no one before and the community showed up!

color photo of a large group of diverse people inside a gallery listening to an artist talk about his work
Artist talk with Jack Marren and ASL Interrupter - FOE opening exhibition Polk County Heritage Gallery

With almost 70 works and one video documentary from a group of 10 different artists, a crowd of nearly 200 people flowed into The Polk County Heritage Gallery to celebrate art, freedom, accessibility, self-expression, and community inclusion. The exhibition artists are

Holly Newvine, Jack Marren, Sarah Sadie Logemann, Kevin Thor, Vera Webster, Nathan Williamson, Zoe Niswander, Leo Bird, Ryan Mueller, Danielle.

"That was a record attendance for PCHG!"
~ Mary Jones, Polk County Heritage Gallery

color photo of a large group of diverse people inside an art gallery
FOE opening exhibition at Polk Co. Heritage Gallery

The exhibition includes rarely-seen works by all Iowa-based artists, each of whom explored different modes of artmaking as a decision to express themselves fully.

"I have been working at the gallery for years and never seen so much joy at an opening night before."
~ Rick Miller, Polk County Heritage Gallery

color photo of a diverse group of people inside an art gallery, posing and smiling for a photo with the artist
Artist Kevin Thor

The joy behind artist Kevin Thor's work, the artist pictured here with his family and community members, shows up in the form of artwear. At times, he physically occupies his creations and in this piece entitled, God Warrior, he did just that during the opening reception. This exceedingly personal outfit was made by hand, and it conforms to no specific aesthetic criterion. This piece was created by employing various techniques, including sewing, leather tooling and burning, upcycling, and many others. Thor partnered with fashion designer Gretchen Bohling to bring his vision to life. For this group exhibition, Thor's work will remain in the Gallery, on a mannequin display, through the closing date of 16 June.

"My artwork is about my Nordic god self. It means warrior, God, and strength." ~ Kevin Thor

color photo of artist Vera Webster inside a gallery, standing in front of her artwork. Vera is an African American female with grey and black hair. Shei is wearing a black dress and patterned jacket. She is smiling
Artist Vera Webster

In this image, artist Vera Webster stands between her two exhibited works. Webster mixes her own paint colors and creates collages by deconstructing and reconstructing dyed arches paper. Her works speak in ways and express ideas and insights that are harder to express verbally. Art is a means of communication for Webster.

color image of a young girl and woman looking at a mask created by artist Holly Newvine, inside a gallery.
Star Trek by Holly Newvine

The multimedia, interactive masks by artist Holly Newvine, pictured to the left, invite individuals to visually see themselves in and through the eyes of her works. Newvine uses the outside and inside of each mask to spark thoughts about what we show and what we don't; how we feel on the outside vs. how we feel on the inside. With each mask standing up on an L-shaped platform and backed with a mirror, the presentation of the works provides literal reflection and observation experiences.

color image of artist Ryan Mueller inside an art gallery. He is a Caucasian male, wearing a black suit and purple shirt. He is wearing glasses and has short brown hair. He is sitting in a chair and his art work is hanging framed on a wall behind him. He is giving a thumbs up.
Artist Ryan Mueller

One of the largest occupations of space inside the exhibition comes from artist Ryan Mueller. In the image above, Mueller sits in a chair in front of his 21-piece series entitled, Grid Studies 1 -21. Ryan Mueller is a geometric abstraction artist, who lives and works in Ankeny, Iowa. He creates his work using a systematic process. Drawing lined grids across sheets of paper, using rulers, and working from the edges into the middle, Ryan explores the relationship between lines, angles, and surfaces. When choosing colors, he works organically.

"I create as a way to enjoy time with myself, in my own space."
~ Ryan Mueller

color photo of a diverse group of people inside and art gallery. There is artwork behind them on the wall. They are smiling
Tim and Zoe Niswander and Wilbur and Brian Frink

This group exhibition presented many firsts for artist Zoe Niswander. The first time she shared an artist talk with her Father, the first time she exhibited in a gallery, and the first time she meet Open Arts Minnesota - Executive Director Wilbur Neushwander-Frink and Brian Frink (pictured here).

"I started painting when I was 5 years old. My Father encouraged me to use my ideas and put them on colorful pictures like rainbows, flying ponies, ocean, light, and darkness!"
~ Zoe Niswander

color image of a painting in a gallery. The painting has a blue background and a blue pony with a soccer ball in the foreground. It has pink and blue feathered wings and a white frame.
Artwork by Zoe Niswander

The full exhibition presents a robust display of artistic disciplines, mediums, narratives, ways of thinking, hopes and dreams, lived experiences, and opportunities for voices to be heard. The works of art in the FOE Exhibition are about inclusion and reflect the truth of our world.

color image of art masks exhibited in a gallery
Artworks by Holly Newvine

One of the most powerful aspects of this exhibition is the representation of marginalized communities by artists and human beings who live within a marginalized community. That, to me, makes each work an act of resistance against systems of oppression. Don't miss this exhibition!

Artwork by Leo Bird

The FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION PROJECT exhibition runs through 16 June. Please visit Polk County Heritage Gallery at 111 Court Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa to experience all the works on exhibition.



A Transformative Art Project of Accessibility + Inclusion

color photo of a group of diverse people creating art inside an art studio
FOE initial group workshop at Mainframe - Image by Eman Art - Artist pictured: Leo, Jack, Holly, Kevin, Jill, Sadie

In partnership with Mosaic in Central Iowa, The Greater Des Moines Public Arts Foundation, Heritage Gallery, Mainframe Studios, and The Harkin Institute Fellow

Jill Wells, FOE began working together in November 2022. During the initial group workshop at Mainframe Studios, the artists worked together on two large-scale paint-pour canvases. Together they created the inspirational works that would become the 3D mapped image that was projected on the outside of Polk County Heritage Gallery opening night. Additionally, their work was profiled by The Des Moines Register and made the front page of the Sunday, Christmas day paper.

The FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION PROJECT (FOE) and group exhibition promotes the full participation of individuals living with disabilities in and through the arts. FOE underscores the relationship between human experiences and the right to freedom of expression and opinion as essential to the ability of persons of all disabilities to develop as individuals and to participate fully in all aspects of life on an equal basis.

color image of the outside of Polk County Heritage gallery with a 3D art image projected on the front facade
Polk County Heritage Gallery - 3D mapped projection


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