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Q&A: John Engelbrecht

BY ERIC HAWKINSON | MAY 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Daily Iowan sat down with John Engelbrecht, the program director for Public Space One, and spoke with him about the challenges with running a public art space, upcoming events, and what he enjoys doing in his free time.

Daily Iowan: Since assuming the position as program director at Public Space One, what has been your aim in running the space?

Engelbrecht: My approach at Public Space One has been to balance high-quality programming with local access. It really helps that we have such a plethora of amazingly skilled artists and thinkers in this town. Generally, this is an interesting and difficult balance to strike: to, on the one hand, exhibit artists and musicians who perform and show at the best venues in the country, while on the other, to also be there for the B.F.A. students who want their first art show or the high-school rap group that’s never performed in front of anyone before.

DI: What are some of the challenges you face in offering a public art venue downtown?

Engelbrecht: It’s great being downtown. The challenges we face are in convincing more people that interesting exhibition and performance spaces such as ours should be more plentiful. Art spaces are worth so much more than another bar will ever be. A group of us (kinetIC) are working on this problem, hoping to utilize more space for creative endeavors. As for Public Space One, we are steps off the Pedestrian Mall, gladly enforcing our strict no-alcohol policy, and have a ton of free programming on a regular basis. The challenge might be in convincing people there is more to downtown than the bar scene.

DI: Are there any upcoming events/exhibits you’re excited about?

Engelbrecht: I am excited for the May exhibition — we have Cody Gieselman, a local zine maker and bike rider who has constructed an amazing Planetarium that runs on DC power from a stationary bike. We also have an artist from Toronto, Erin Thurlow, who is splitting his Iowa City exhibition between us and the Times Club and promises to have something profound, savvy, and maybe even funny installed.

I am also looking forward to the first weekend in June, when our Free @rt Sch001: FREEFORALL exhibition opens. There is also going to be an RPM Puppet Conspiracy show around this time, which also promises to be fairly radical.

DI: What do you enjoy to do in your spare time?

Engelbrecht: There is no spare time. I enjoy it all. My dad used to tell me, “If you enjoy what you do, you never have to work a day in your life.” That still doesn’t make any sense to me. But I found this gig, it’s extremely fun, and now, that’s all I want to do. Sure I like to draw, read, paint, hike, write, and make things, but my work at Public Space One lets me be endlessly creative.

DI: Who are some of your favorite artists? Why?

Engelbrecht: Not to be boring or cliché, but I have to say Duchamp. Craig Adcock in the School of Art and Art History can give you a million reasons “why,” but the reason I will give is this: He screwed everything up. We’re still reeling from it, half of us don’t even like art anymore because of him, and the other half don’t know what art even is. I can’t think of too many other people who have had that effect.


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