Fall Gallery Walk in downtown Iowa City promotes local art and business

This year’s Fall Gallery Walk in downtown Iowa City allowed shoppers and art enthusiasts to appreciate local art and support local businesses on Friday, Oct. 7.


Matthew Sindt

The Fall Gallery Walk is held in downtown Iowa City Oct. 7, 2022.

Stella Shipman, Arts Reporter

On a cool autumn Friday evening, people streamed through the retail stores in downtown Iowa City to shop and observe pieces of artwork for the 2022 Fall Gallery Walk on Oct. 7. The event started in the early 1990s, and the gallery walk has become one of Iowa City’s longest-running programs. Three walks take place throughout each year during summer, spring, and fall.

The original Gallery Walk was created to showcase artist MC Ginsberg’s exhibition which was to be auctioned at the Domestic Violence Intervention Program’s Fine Art and Fun Fundraiser. Since then it has evolved to include a variety of other local businesses and artists that strive to help one another grow by organizing complementary work. 

Retailers, local artists, and University of Iowa arts students partner for the project to promote business and publicity through an open registry months before the event. Upon choosing an artist to represent at their store, a business prepares its space for the gallery in a way designed to flatter both the art and the store merchandise. Pieces of artwork may be only for display, while others are available for purchase.

Work by local artist James Bass was for sale at the clothing store Textiles, but he was using the Gallery Walk as more of an opportunity to establish himself as an artist instead of to make a profit.  

“This is the first time anybody has ever seen my work,” Bass said. “I don’t draw them for profit. It’s strictly to satisfy some sort of, not to be too pretentious, aesthetic need to do it.”

Bass’s pieces are done in pastel and acrylic on sanded paper. Each captures a photograph either taken by himself or someone else and reproduces them in different mediums. The paintings he hung, especially his reproductions of ancient Roman dresses in museum cases, suited the warmth and elegance of Textiles quite well. 

The Gallery Walk is a self-guided tour, giving people plenty of freedom to move between shops and galleries however they choose. Attendees can also engage with the artists, who are usually available for questions and comments at their exhibits.

A sign for the Fall Gallery Walk is seen in the window of Blick Art Materials. Oct. 7, 2022. (Matthew Sindt)

The partnerships between businesses and artists can create lasting connections that encourage their participation in future walks, said Christopher Hunter, the director of special events for the Iowa City Downtown District.

“Every once in a while you’ll see a familiar artist who’s participated before and then sometimes you’ll see those new artists, which is great to introduce them to the community, too,” Hunter said.  

One of these familiar artists is Chloe Allgood. She presented an array of smaller, colorful paintings of different birds, as well as several larger human portraits. Her pieces were spread throughout MERGE, and she flitted between them to attend to any curious observers, noting how she is accustomed to the atmosphere of art shows.

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“This is my third or fourth time [participating in the event],” Allgood said. “Being able to do this for a job, a career, is amazing because then it helps me and I can keep doing more art, and it’s amazing that there’s places like MERGE Iowa City that allow me to continue doing it and sharing my pieces.”

For this year’s Fall Gallery Walk, MERGE also partnered with Iowa City’s School Center for Advancement and the University of Iowa School for Art and Art History to display a gallery of ceramics made by art students at the UI. Such galleries help foster artistic excellence and opportunities for young, emerging artists. 

The combination of shopping and art reaches a wider audience in the community of Iowa City. Families, students, and older Iowa residents can share the experience of enjoying art. Debra Gardner, a Cedar Rapids resident and returning Gallery Walk shopper, said the Gallery Walk is a good idea because it promotes creativity and lifts up artists.  

“There are people that think that they’re not creative at all, but when they start to look at art and experience art, it stirs that in others as well,” said Gardner. “Everybody’s an artist, I really believe it. You just have to let it come out or encourage it to come out.”