Shifting Ground – Outro Chão: Cedar Rapids, 2019/ Evora, Portugal 2022

A socially engaged immigrant outreach project about the creative process and cultural sustainability, dealing with the shifting notions of home and personal identity that come with multiple immigrant relocations.

Organized by The Iowa Ceramic Center and Glass Studio (ICCGS) and international artist collective CREATURA with funding from The City of Cedar Rapids, and a grant from The Iowa Arts Council, Shifting Ground is an immigrant outreach project working with Hispanic youth and recent Central African Immigrants, using art making and the creative process as a vehicle for learning about each other (past and present) and for finding a sense of place within a new culture, while also retaining pride in one’s heritage.

The Shifting Ground workshops focus on the shifting notions of home and identity that come with multiple relocations. The workshops aim to give visibility to recent immigrants to the Cedar Rapids area. 

Shifting-Ground CR Power Point:

Participants in Shifting Ground were honored at the completion of their workshops during a public exhibition and multicultural celebration at The Cherry Center Place in NewBo, Saturday July 27th, 1- 4pm, 2019. The Iowa Ceramic Center and Glass Studio, The Cherry Building and the mayor of Cedar Rapids hosted this public celebration with an installation of artwork and projected video workshop documentation, accompanied by international food and music from The St. Paul’s African Nationals Choir.


  • To give visibility and voice to local immigrants through workshops using personal histories, dialog, and art making
  • To promote creative thinking and use of the imagination as survival tools
  • To promote socially engaged public art that benefits both the local community and those marginalized from it.
  • To promote cultural and social sustainability
  • To become a prototype for future collaborations between immigrant populations and institutions in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

CONCEPT: The workshops are based on Hannah Arendt’s notion of vita activa,the active life, in which she distinguishes between a life of labor, as only those activities necessary to sustain life, and a life of work as those activities humans do to transform their surroundings through fabrication and creative design. We introduce this idea at a very basic level through group dialog and storytelling.

CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT: Each participant will select a memory and an object related to a talent/work they have in creating/making things. For example, one of us might have a talent for embroidery and remember learning that skill from a grandparent in their childhood home. Though the labor of daily existence is necessary to survive, this kind of work may make life more meaningful. Sharing such life stories, we will get to know one another individually and culturally – both past and present.

THANK YOU TO All of our immigrant participants, workshop volunteers and community partners, without whom this project would not have been possible!

Funding for Shifting Ground was provided by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, the City of Cedar Rapids Visual Arts Commission, Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust, and Mount Mercy University, Janalyn Hanson-White Gallery, The Iowa Ceramic Center and Glass Studio.The University of Évora, Portugal. The CHAIA – Centre for Art History and Artistic Research, the City of Évora, Portugal, will provide funding for the Portugal portion of the project in 2021. Community Partners include St. Paul’s Methodist Church (Pastor Sherrie, Pastor Daniel, Michelle La Compte, Jade Hart), Immaculate Conception Catholic Church Hispanic Ministries, Trees Forever, United We March Forward, Mount Mercy University, The Cherry Building, and Legion Arts/ CSPS Hall

What is a Socially Engaged Art? Social practice focuses on social engagement, inviting collaboration with individuals, communities, and institutions often with the aim of improving society.

Installation: Figge Museum of Art 2022


The electricity is still on. There must be life. But things seem to be slowly falling apart. It is difficult to know if these are ruins or works in progress.

Breakfast on Pluto (The Figge Museum of Art, October 2021 – February, 2022) is an installation juxtaposing found notes embossed on metal foil with repurposed art and studio detritus, all activated by video, movement, and light. The viewer experiences islands of light in a dark gallery, fragments of the familiar among the strange, and an uncanny sense of past and present simultaneously.

In the midst of a pandemic and the chaos of current international politics and geophysical destruction, this installation considers the fluidity of self, dislocation, and border crossings: presence/absence, public/private, poverty/privilege, colonized/colonizer. In these layered worlds of chance encounters, I look for those slippages of
language, materiality and visual experience through which we might re-locate our own identity.

catalog downloadable pdf




In workshops throughout the area participants were asked to visualize or write about a personal space where they took refuge during quarantines – it could real, imaginary, or it could be “on Pluto”. Working on sheets of metal foil, nearly a hundred of images were then attached to the walls of a 13-foot domed shrine-like structure. A monument to the lived pandemic experiences of this community. The dark interior is punctuated by a pattern of lights coming through tiny dark holes piercing the domed room. Like a night sky, it creates a space for contemplation, perhaps to imagine a universe without pandemics and dire planetary emergencies. Pandemic Planet help the community share and process it’s experiences. Thank you to all our participants!

This project was conceptualized by the artist but then fully developed by Vanessa Sage, Figge Associate Curator, and Laura Wright, Brian Allen and the entire staff of the Figge Education and Outreach Departments, along with Terry Rathje and Rod Bradley, who assisted in the design and construction the structure.

In Conversation: Jane Gilmor and art historian Joy Sperling

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Rudely rotating knobs project from two holes in Pathetic’s polka dotted black wall. Pitiful’s barely open door reveals two spotlighted crocheted doilies mimicking the form of a white metal snowflake on the floor outside. With both absurd humor and tragedy, we laugh at someone else’s fragile attachment to the physical and emotional status quo.

Once the career monograph, the archival web site and the university teaching are finished, only big piles of stuff remain. Mining 40 years of unfinished works and collected materials, the studio has become an archeological site. I’ve set out to re-purpose the sluggish build-up and undermine my old ways of doing things. I need to stir things up.

As in my recent social practice, Pathetic and Pitiful reference cultural issues like migration, labor, and gender identity but on a more personal level.