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Humanities Iowa chooses Charles City for annual meeting

By James Grob,

The art and culture of Charles City will soon be in the spotlight — at least for a couple of days.

“We’ll be gathering from far and distant points,” said Kurt Meyer, who is president of Humanities Iowa, which is Iowa’s affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The organization’s board holds its annual meeting in a different community every year, and this year the meeting will be in Charles City.

“This is a chance for those of us on the board to learn about the community,” Meyer said. “We’re going to take advantage of the opportunity to see a few things in Charles City, and explore a little of the local flavor.”

The group, consisting of Iowa Humanities board members and their spouses, will be in town Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2-3. The 30 or so individuals will be gathering at the Floyd County Historical Museum on Friday afternoon, then checking into their hotel rooms before the meeting and dinner at the Charles City Arts Center. The dinner will be catered by Hy-Vee.

“It will be a quick but rich dive into the local community,” Meyer said. “I believe in the marrow of my soul that every community has things worth seeing and doing.”

The annual meeting has typically been held in larger communities such as Iowa City, Dubuque and Mason City. Meyer, however, lives near St. Ansgar, “near where the Cedar River enters the state,” he said, and added that the board president often has some say about where the board meets.

Meyer, an “amateur historian,” grew up in Mitchell County and serves as president of the Mitchell County Historical Society and as a board member of the Mitchell County Environmental Education Foundation and the Mitchell County Historical Preservation Association. He has been a consultant to non-profit organizations, assisting them with strategic planning, community relations and fundraising.

“Part of what we do is being a champion for things that are going on in communities that are a little bit smaller,” Meyer said. “Obviously there are exciting things going on in small towns as well as bigger cities, and there are communities of all sizes and projects of all sizes in need of funding.”

Jacqueline Davidson, director at the Charles City Arts Center, said Meyer entered the CCAC one day and seemed impressed with the artwork on display and with the way the Arts Center operates, pulling in established artists locally and from all over the upper Midwest.

“Kurt just came in one day and introduced himself,” Davidson said.  “We feel very honored that they considered us.”

Davidson said that Humanities Iowa choosing Charles City for its annual meeting is a credit to the community.

“There is always some talk that sometimes people choose to not move here because there is no culture, and we need to show that we have a lot of culture in northern Iowa,” she said. “We have this remarkable arts center, and so many remarkable artists — we are just so blessed here.”

Humanities Iowa states that its mission is to promote understanding and appreciation of the people, communities, culture and stories of importance to Iowa and the nation. Humanities Iowa provides grants and partnerships to other non-profit organizations that further the humanities in the state, and conducts its own programs that support the humanities across Iowa.

Grants are awarded to not-for-profit organizations that serve the Iowa public. Major grants are awarded twice annually, and range from $3,001 to $20,000. Mini-grants are awarded throughout the year for amounts up to $3,000.

Meyer said that while the board learns about the community, it’s also a chance for the community to learn more about what Humanities Iowa does.

“This is also a way for smaller communities like Charles City to become more aware of the opportunities through Humanities Iowa,” he said. “We have a pretty accessible grant application process.”

Most of the visitors will be spending Friday night in Charles City, and Meyer said the group also hopes to visit the Carrie Chapman Catt home and the Charles City Public Library, to see the Mooney Art Collection.

“That’s a terrific collection, just an incredible thing to have in Charles City. It’s magnificent,” Meyer said.

The Mooney Art Collection features prints of the works of classical artists such as Dali, Picasso, Rembrandt and Goya. The Carrie Lane Chapman Catt Girlhood Home is a historic site which honors Catt, who served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was the founder of the League of Women Voters and the International Alliance of Women.

“I am excited to have my board colleagues see the historical museum and the arts center in Charles City,” Meyer said.  “A lot of these things are a little tucked away in small towns — the people in Charles City might know about them, but outside, they might not. There are magnificent gems in our small towns in Iowa. With our busy 21st-century lifestyle, we sometimes fail to notice them.”