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.”