The Artists Action Network is a website dedicated to establishing and preserving the relationship between artists and art enthusiasts. It will be a place for artists to showcase and speak about their work and a resource for art enthusiasts to discover artists in their local area. Our hope is that, by creating the website, we can promote the Arts in small communities like ours. We are centered in the small town of Iowa City, Iowa. We are far removed from the coasts and the big-name mega galleries. We have no large auction houses selling Picassos and Warhols. Despite this, we have a thriving local arts community with incredible artists producing top-notch work.
The idea for this website came from multiple sources; however, one person in particular stands out — Benjamin Chait. If you’ve lived in Iowa City for any length of time, you probably know the name. He is a serial entrepreneur, having established multiple businesses, including restaurants, bars, laundromats, video stores, the Chait Galleries Downtown, and now e-commerce: Iconiciowa.com.
For artists, the Chait Galleries Downtown served as a beacon in the Iowa City arts community, a place for local and emerging artists to proudly display their work. Between the gallery itself, various gallery shows, and high school shows, Chait interacted with over a thousand artists in his career as gallery owner. Trained as an architect, he saw the potential in the 1883 building he bought in 1979. The gallery was a passion project, a labor of love. Like many of his business ventures, he jumped in headfirst, stating, “We never had a business plan, never had a clue about how to have a gallery. We just did it. We just fearlessly did it.”
In addition to the artists he represented, Chait sold many of his own photographs depicting panoramic scenes of rural Iowa, many of which can be found hanging in local businesses about town. He also dabbled in what he calls “modular interactive architecture,” art pieces with moveable panels allowing the geometry of the piece to change and, hence, the viewer experience. Despite all of his artistic endeavors, Chait does not consider himself an artist.
“I am not an artist, I can see things and design things, but I am not a painter. I can’t draw. So, that is why I chose architecture, because I could always see the possibilities.”
Seeing potential in local and emerging artists was what made Benjamin Chait such a wonderful gallery owner. His gallery showcased the work of a range of artists — from the untrained amateur to the established professional. In doing so, he provided a place where the community could view a range of art that they could enjoy and afford to take home. His high school and Small Works Shows were always extremely popular events that allowed the community to meet the artists and discuss the motivation behind their work.
This is what art is about. It brings people together. It allows us to share emotional experiences that we often do not. It makes us think about things differently and respect other people’s viewpoints as they are laid bare before us.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and, in 2016, the gallery closed, leaving a void in the Iowa City arts community. This online community is our attempt to fill this void. We’re hoping that artists will embrace this format, that we can showcase their work to the local community and that the local community will, in turn, look to this site as their resource for spectacular art.