Editor’s note: Multi-media artist Jonny Stax of West Branch, Iowa, will be leading discussions during Art Week Des Moines (June 19–26) and the Iowa Arts Summit (Aug. 7) to encourage people to create art that promotes justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. He offered the following open letter to jump-start the conversation.
Dear Iowa’s Creative Force,
I am writing from our farmhouse in southeast Iowa. All the wondrous shades of green are taking their place for the lush summer ahead of us. The birds are noisier this year than I have ever experienced them. The world is waking up.
I, too, am ready to awaken to a world where artists are essential contributors to a society that values them. We were among the first responders in the Great Hunkerdown caused by Covid-19 and quickly pivoted to find how we could generously share our art for the well-being of people who were trapped and frightened.
The Iowa Arts Council is providing an opportunity to begin this conversation at Art Week Des Moines, set for June 22–26. Each day during lunchtime, from noon to 1 p.m., we will gather virtually to discuss how we might adapt to create more justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI).
Monday’s session — part performance, part cultural equity training — will be led by social justice drag queen and JEDI trainer Beatrice Thomas from Authentic Arts and Media. As their fierce and fabulous drag persona, Black Benatar, they will explore the role bias plays in our lives, how privilege impacts us, and how we can use it to create positive change in the world.
The rest of the week, Tuesday through Friday, we will conduct virtual potion-making sessions for JEDI transformation. This potion-making process comes from a project in development that I would like to bring to the table as a tool for this JEDI transformation work in Iowa. It’s a potion show that encourages people to brewing their own healing tinctures through storytelling, power-sharing, and art-making. We will have a small group in the Zoom room to help guide the potion-making process, and we will live-stream the session on Facebook. If you’d like to join as part of the audience, please sign up right here.
I am ready to awaken to a world where state violence against Black people is not tolerated, and we are working diligently to uproot racism’s influence on how we understand and organize ourselves. What a powerful moment to use disruption as an opportunity to adapt the world toward our visions.
Further ahead, I look forward to virtually gathering at the Iowa Arts Summit on Aug. 7 to share our awakenings, visions, and callings. Together we can map new worlds to co-create.
We will have hard conversations and work, but also laughter, intimacy, and fun in the process. We are artists, entertainers, hosts, healers, educators, entrepreneurs, movement builders — the ones who create. Let us harness these powers of creation and have a glorious time together. Let us embrace the mystery and step into the unknown, finding joy and companionship in the journey.
In pursuit of creative justice and equitable love,