Downtown retailers transform into concert spaces


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Farms, beaches, valleys, and stadiums facilitate some of America's largest music and arts festivals. But rather than gather in one huge (and most likely litter-strewn) space, Mission Creek Festival spreads its artistic web across every corner of central and near-central Iowa City — including the racks and shelves of beloved local shops.

"It keeps it fresh, rather than just going to the same big field every year," said Andre Perry, the director and cofounder of Mission Creek. "It allows us to be versatile, [and] people get to see the stores in a different way from what they did before."

This Saturday, locally owned retailers Revival, Catherine's, and RSVP will host the Mission Creek's Mission Boutique program. The stores will temporarily transform into acoustic concert spaces, hosting free performances by musicians and, for the first time, literary readers.

"It's kind of a dual experience with the writer and musician together," Perry said. "We really tried to think about the music and writers and what would create the coolest combination … We're just trying to create an experience."

This year's Mission Boutique musicians include post-punk band El Terrible and John Lindenbaum, who will perform with Perry in the folk/synth band the Lonelyhearts Friday evening at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St. Readers include award-winning journalists, authors, and poets.

Beyond selling vintage clothes or locally made accessories, Revival owner Sheila Davisson said Mission Boutique is just another way to serve her patrons.

"We think it's an extension of what our customer does," she said. "Our customer likes to buy clothing, but that's just one side of her. They also like to go to shows and see readings, and at Mission Creek you can take in all of what Iowa City has to offer in one space."

Another new feature of this year's Mission Boutique is the artist reception and talk, which will cap the program. Kansas-based artist Alicia Kelly started designing a cut-paper installation in RSVP at her arrival in Iowa City on Wednesday, and her final work will appear at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Kelly said visitors can expect to see an exhibit that reflects her personal aesthetics — including fabric-like paper designs and a natural, "mystical" atmosphere — as well as her impressions from her first visit to Iowa City and RSVP.

"A lot of my inspiration comes from the flora and fauna of what's around," she said. "I'll sit and drink some coffee and be there for a few hours. You kind of have to live in the space a minute."

Unlike a gallery show, Kelly's laid-back and "whimsical" artistic process will take precedent over the final product. RSVP staff and customers can witness the development of the art from beginning to end, and ask Kelly questions regarding the completed installation on Saturday.

"It's about the making of the piece, so we have that mystery and anticipation about what it will be," RSVP owner Niki Neems said. "It's like Mission Creek in general; I offer the space, and I trust the artist to bring me something. There's a sort of energy from not knowing what'll happen."

Perry said this spark of energy is the inspiration behind all Mission Creek Festival events, especially Mission Boutique.

"By having it downtown [and near downtown] and spread out among the venues and different stores, it really encourages people to get a better sense of the cultural geography of Iowa City," he said. "If you go to school or you go to work … you have your set path. But if you take an afternoon off or a day off, and you go see a couple people playing music in a store or hear someone read, and go to a concert venue that night, you really engage your city in an authentic way."

As an art enthusiast and business owner, Neems agreed with Perry.

"I want the community to be part of the operation," she said. "It's important to be here here, and feel as if you're a part of something. If people happen to buy things while they're here, then that's great."

Shop, listen, and stroll through this year's Mission Boutique schedule on Saturday

3 p.m. — Revival, 117 E. College
Music: Nadalands (John Lindenbaum)
Reading: Julian Rubinstein

4 p.m. — Catherine's, 7 S. Dubuque
Reading: Tarfia Faizullah

5 p.m. — RSVP, 140 N. Linn
Music: El Terrible
Reading: Tim Denevi

6 p.m. — RSVP
Artist Reception and Talk, Alicia Kelly

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