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Artists compete for funding in Des Moines

In a fire round of presentations five Iowa artists went head-to-head at the annual Microgrant Dinner hosted by Chicken Tractor to win funding in order to continue their projects.

Wednesday night at Big City Burger & Greens restaurant in downtown Des Moines artists Edward Kelley, Rachel Merrill, Cat Rocketship, Bob Schulte and Alyssa Tauber pitched their work and current needs to further develop their projects. Attendees were asked at the end of the presentations to throw their support behind one artist by voting for them as the winner of the Microgrant, a fund comprised of the event’s ticket sales and sponsorships.

The Microgrant Dinner began in 2015 and has funded artist Rachel Buse’s insurance, allowed Rob Stephen’s to print his comics, and connected artists and supporters within the community.

Mixed media artist Bob Schulte presented his collages Wednesday night and won the grant.

Bob Schulte, the winning artitst of the Microgrant for 2017 addresses the crowd Wednesday night. Mat Greiner/Special to Clay & Milk

“Without patrons, the Sistine chapel would have never been painted. Without Theo supporting Vincent’s painting,” Schulte said. “Van Gogh would have probably stayed a coal miner. There are no great artists without great patrons.”

Schulte intends on using the funds to create a hole in his basement wall to move his large-scale printer in to continue his work. Schulte also will advance his involvement with the Charitable Print Trust, an organization that enables artists to create high quality prints free of charge and to donate a portion of those prints to a nonprofit organization as volunteer retention and fundraising tools.

Mat Greiner, founder of Chicken Tractor, said a of the goal of the organization is to devise low-cost, high-impact strategies in order address weak spots in the Des Moines arts community that could use a little help.

“There tends to be a lot of support for people who are early in the idea of wanting to have creativity be a bigger part of their lives,” Greiner said. “And then we have on the far end things like the Des Moines Art Center which is excellent and nationally recognized.

“What Des Moines doesn’t have are the spaces in between,” he continued. “The things that show you how to go from getting your bachelor’s degree in Art to getting a show in a nonprofit venue and talking to galleries.”

Arist Cat Rocketship addresses the crowd. Mat Greiner/Special to Clay & Milk

Aside from the Microgrant Dinner, the nonprofit holds professional development workshops that allow artists to develop their grant writing skills, art road trips where artists can network, and exhibitions that allow Iowa artists greater exposure such as the Bridgework program. The organization is hoping to expand the arts presences in Des Moines through an array of different programs and events.

Other artist’s presentations:

• Edward Kelley pitched Here Today Gone Tomorrow, his series that addresses the effects of time and how people interact with it.

• Rachel Merrill’s It’s Always a Competition project focused on the absurd and the culture of competition. She demonstrated this theme though series of videos produced using six characters that were varying versions of herself.

• Cat Rocketship created a series of tarot card illustration and now needs help funding in order to print and distribute. While illustrating the cards, Rocketship learned the tarot and began using it in her everyday life.

• Alyssa Tauber whose art explores the relationship with the environment requested attendees to vote for her in order for her to fund a new roller for printing.

Vivian Le is a Journalism and Mass Communications student studying at the University of Iowa and originally from Des Moines.

Artists compete for funding in Des Moines | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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