- Associated Press - Sunday, March 8, 2020

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) - Carving out space for creative pursuits while juggling work demands can be difficult - even if being an artist is part of the job.

So when the Hearst Center for the Arts decided to convert its neighboring house on Seerley Boulevard to artists studios, Heather Skeens knew she’d get some interest in the project.

“I looked at it as an opportunity to tie that space back into the mission of the Hearst Center,” Skeens, the Hearst’s cultural programs supervisor, told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

She noted the single-story red house at 224 W. Seerley Boulevard was purchased by the city in 1995 for a future expansion project and has largely been a rental property since then. After a renter left in late 2017, though, center staff and the city’s art and culture board drafted a proposal for what they called the Red House Studios.

“It’s just a work space. It’s not a live-work space,” said Skeens. “It’s like an office for fine arts.”



Last month, the City Council approved leases with artists for three of the house’s four studio spaces. They include Noah Doely, an associate professor of photography at the University of Northern Iowa, Angela Waseskuk, an instructor in UNI’s art department, and James Ross Reed, a tattoo artist with Red Owl Tattoo. The fourth studio space will be reserved for a recent graduate of UNI’s art program.

“We’re still working out the details of how the alumni studio will work,” said Skeens. The others began moving into the house in early February.

The three artists are excited about the possibilities of the studio space, where they have year-long leases.

“I think it feels real good in here. I feel optimistic about what’s going to happen in this house,” said Waseskuk. She likes its connection to the art community and a historical art figure.

When surrealist painter Salvador Dali visited UNI in 1952, she noted, he attended a party at the house, which was owned by a professor. His presence was documented in a locally known photo.

“I like that it’s not a conventional artist studio, that it has more character,” said Doely.

The house has distinct rooms but was built with almost no interior doors. It has hardwood floors, a wall dominated by cut limestone and a non-functional fireplace, and large windows and a patio looking out onto a similar backyard landscape as the Hearst.

The artists envision the house as a place to get away from the daily work of their jobs to focus on other elements of being creative.

Reed finds time whenever he can at the tattoo business downtown to work on art outside of sessions with customers. “Sometimes I’d stay late or come early,” he said, to explore ideas beyond the tattoo work.

“I think the point of this space is to work on things outside of that,” said Reed. “I want to see where I go, (to) push myself versus where my career is.”

Distractions from making art are plentiful at UNI, as well.

“I’ve taken kind of a break from my work for too long,” said Waseskuk, whose art focuses on textiles and soft sculpture. “I’ve really been immersed in teaching. I think (the studio space) will help me prioritize my work.”

Doely works primarily in photography, sculpture, and video that, at times, involves elaborate building and staging of what he is taking pictures of. It can be challenging to find space for the process. The demands of the classroom frequently keep him busy, as well.

“If I’m at work, I’m teaching,” said Doely, or otherwise dealing with students. “There’s always something that needs to be done. To have a space where we can go and come and have it be our own is really crucial.”

Skeens noted that the three will also lead a new effort to start a visiting artist program in the Cedar Falls Community Schools. By the end of December, each of them will do two visits to classrooms in the district. During one visit, they will talk to students about arts careers and, during the other, they will do a hands-on art project.

“We’re very excited to use the Red House Studios as a launching pad to get artists more involved in the schools,” she said.

The limited costs to provide updates to the house and meet city code issues were paid for with donated funds from the estate of Veda Rasmussen, a Cedar Falls resident who died in 2017.

“That’s what we’re using to make this work, which has been incredibly helpful,” said Skeens.

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