Local artist working to open art gallery in Iowa City for indigenous people

Dawson Davenport, Meskwaki artist and UI art and graphic design student, is in the process of opening an indigenous art gallery and event space in Iowa City in the summer.


Hannah Kinson

Artist and writer Dawson Davenport is pictured on Thursday, April 25, 2019. His art promotes the diversity within the Native American communities and works to encourage younger artists to continue their artwork.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

From doing traditional Native American beadwork, sculpting, and poetry, having his own clothing brand, and much more, Meskwaki artist Dawson Davenport sees himself as a jack-of-all-trades. With the help of all his interests, Davenport is working to open an art gallery and event space specifically focusing on indigenous art.

The gallery will give Native American people in the area a central place to show off their art and tell their stories, Davenport said. As not only an artist but an entrepreneur, he wanted to bring everything he’s passionate about into one space, he said.

The focus of the gallery will be on the tribes that are native to Iowa and give them a voice in the community, Davenport said. The gallery will be a way to educate people about the history of the tribes native to the state.

The gallery will be a place for Native American students at the University of Iowa to come together and a place for people of other cultures to come and learn about indigenous people, Davenport said.

There will be poetry readings and standup comedy events to attend, he said.

“I think it’ll contribute to the community,” Davenport said. “It’ll teach Iowa, it’ll teach Iowa City people that real history, which is important because of a lot of reasons, but just to kind of show that we’re still here as native people, as indigenous folks.”

I think it’ll contribute to the community. It’ll teach Iowa, it’ll teach Iowa City people that real history, which is important because of a lot of reasons, but just to kind of show that we’re still here as native people, as indigenous folks.

— Dawson Davenport, UI Student

Davenport is still finalizing a location for the gallery and is still raising funds for the space, but he hopes to open during the summer, he said. Over the summer, Davenport will host some small events. Indigenous People’s Day is in October, and he hopes to hold large events to celebrate the month, he said.

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The space will be a place for indigenous students to feel comfortable while also learning about different indigenous tribes and their own “indigeneity,” said UI junior Adriana Peterson, the president of the Native American Student Association, in an email to The Daily Iowan.

The gallery will be a place Native American students can be proud of and will be an opportunity to create a community of indigenous and nonindigenous people, she said.

“I think the gallery will create a sense of community for those who want to be a part of it and for those who didn’t know that this is what they needed to be a part of,” Peterson said. “I am a big believer in journeys and purpose, so I believe that people will be given the opportunity to find theirs in the gallery.”

The gallery will give native students a space on campus to gather and express themselves, UI graduate student Cinnamon Spear said.

“The impact that it will have for both the native community here is validation in a sense, and then for non-native students, I think it’s important that we make cross-cultural communication a priority,” Spear said.

It will be a space dedicated to native students that they can call home and feel comfortable in as well as a place for non-native students to feel welcome to learn more about the culture, Spear said. 

“I think in order for us to make a better world, a better community for young people, I think [the gallery] is one of the ways we can do it, by understanding other cultures,” Davenport said.