If you’ve been paying attention to the cultural scene in Des Moines at all lately, you’ve been hearing the word “RAW” being tossed around. Some have been awaiting the event with bated breath- RAW:natural born artists is an international organization that has chosen little ol’ us for its next showcase series. RAW describes itself as “an independent arts organization, for artists, by artists” whose mission is “to provide independent artists within the first 10 years of their career with the tools, resources and exposure needed to inspire and cultivate creativity.” (www.rawartists.org) That sounds fantastic, but there has also been a darker buzz about town. Some in our community are a bit more disgruntled, grumbling that an outside entity is “milking” our local artists – a worry based on the fact that participating artists are required to sell $200 worth of tickets in order to participate without getting a cut of the profit. Regardless of your viewpoint, the first event happened Saturday, July 21st at Wooly’s. It was one fantastic party to be sure – resembling a boozy, noisy ten-ring circus. Whether or not it was an effective promotion of our local talent remains to be seen.
Ryan Siedel at RAW Mixology
The visual artists involved – while quite talented – faced some logistical challenges. If you’ve ever been inside Wooly’s, you know that there is virtually no usable wall space. In addition to the burden of ticket sales, these artists had to engineer their own display rigs. Michelle Holley did this most gracefully, creating a large-scale painting on wood on which to display her high spirited, reasonably priced pieces. Having run Instinct Gallery for years, this was not Holley’s first time at the rodeo, and it showed. Her display was well situated, well marked, and well received. Other artists did a fine job of displaying their work, though next time more will surely mark their prices more clearly, as the noise level in the venue made verbal transactions nearly impossible. The addition of live painting was a fun touch to the event, and the intricate ink work of Brent Westphal was a remarkable find.
Jen Kees at RAW Mixology
Overall, however, the performance artists were best suited for this particular event. Body by Svec’s Painted Ladies – with body paint by Emily Svec, makeup by Lindsey Ritland, and hair by Brianne Cummins – all but stole the show as they pranced, danced, and posed with feline sensuality. Of the few musical acts that performed, Hath No Fury gave a rousing performance that got the crowd up and on its feet, and the solo pole dance performance by Jen Kees demonstrated an athleticism and fierce grace that whipped the crowd into a frenzy.
Elena Flores’s fashion at RAW Mixology
As an audience member, the spectacle overall was nearly worth the $10 ticket price. A few improvements need to be made, and this reviewer is likely to return for the August RAW Showcase. First, since Wooly’s is already booked for the event and a complete change of venue is not possible, hopefully measures will be taken to make the crowd flow better and the noise level less deafening so that both audience and artists can actually have a pleasant, interactive experience with one another. Second, there simply must be a better setup for the fashion portion of the show. Elena Flores showed her inventive La Bella Figura line, but very little of the audience was able to see it because the “catwalk” was at ground rather than stage level. Finally, and by far most importantly, RAW needs to do a better job of communicating to the public how this event benefits the participating artists. In Des Moines, we are very protective of our growing cultural community, and any whiff of exploitation or merely a good, old fashioned, “taking for granted” of our treasured artists does not sit well.
Hiccups aside, this concept certainly seems to have potential. The next RAW showcase is on Thursday, August 23, at Wooly’s. I recommend you check it out at least once, and if you know a participating artist, help out and select his or her name when you buy your ticket.