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Cocktails & Critiques merge tech, art communities

Drake University Art Professor Phillip Chen heard that a group of people would discuss and critique a piece of art Friday night.

He wanted to be part of the conversation.

“Because it doesn’t happen that often,” Chen says. “When I go to galleries I always want to know what people are thinking.”

So Chen and over 30 other people showed up to Olson-Larsen Galleries in West Des Moines for the first-ever Clay & Milk event, “Cocktails and critiques.”

The two-hour event gave those in attendance an opportunity to network and provide them with a chance to interact with the artwork and leave an online review of, “Mineralization” by Christopher Chiavetta:

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Chiavetta said this piece took him roughly a year to finish and that it’s his first time working on a piece this large.

He said with pieces this large there’s lots of editing that goes on before it’s completed.

“There’s a lot of editing here, some of it has been covered up two or three times,” Chiavetta explained. “But it’s weird because with abstraction, after a while it takes on its own logic.”

Valerie Van Horne said this event was the first she can remember where there was an actual critique of a piece of art.

She manages the River City Art and Music Facebook page and has covered art and culture in Central Iowa for the past five years.

“It’s totally bursting at the scene,” Van Horne says of the Iowa arts community. “What I see right now is a cultural renaissance in downtown Des Moines. With all the new construction, restaurants, Main Frame studios is going in. It’s an exciting time to be an artist here.”

Two guests talk during the Cocktails and Critiques event Friday night at Lauren Olsen Galleries in West Des Moines.

Bill Van Werden believes if art has a larger impact in the community, everybody will benefit.

“The community is always hungry for art discussion,” Van Werden said. “The art community brings people anywhere to a common community area and adds to the culture.”


Susan Watts owns the art gallery and said she wanted to host the event because it helps increase the arts coverage in Central Iowa.

The event also served as a kickoff to announcing more arts coverage at Clay & Milk.

“We are a pretty longstanding part of the Central Iowa arts scene so this felt like a natural fit,” Watts explained. “I’m expecting a great crowd and some new faces, plus some great energy about this new venture.”

1 Comment

  • Brent Roske
    Posted July 8, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Congratulations on the launch of Clay & Milk!

Comments are closed.

Cocktails & Critiques merge tech, art communities | 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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