Art for All

Mat Greiner and Teva Dawson at the “River Constellation” sculpture at Water Works Park. The duo helped coordinate and manage the installation.

Writer: Chad Taylor
Photographer: Duane Tinkey

For Teva Dawson and Mat Greiner, art isn’t about viewing isolated objects. Instead, it’s about driving social and economic change, creating community, and experiencing personal transformation.

That philosophy drives the duo in their work leading Group Creative Services, which recently planned and managed some of the most engaging public art projects across the metro area, including the “River Constellation” immersive sculpture at the Water Works amphitheater; “Dream Cube,” an 8-foot-tall temporary installation, consisting of more than 200 pillows, that homeless youths helped build last fall; a December downtown treasure hunt of holiday ornaments made by local artists; and a mural and lending library in the Franklin neighborhood focusing on inclusion and equity.

“We’re excited to have things that are very experiential,” Greiner says. “It’s more than just about art that fills up a space.”

Dawson, a North Dakota native, and Greiner, who grew up Wisconsin, attended Drake University at the same time, starting in 1993. But they didn’t connect with each other until 2013, when they both served on a committee for the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation. Through that experience, the pair found they shared not only a love of community art, but also a desire to see artists engage with the public in more meaningful ways.

“That was a rare time that we’d seen art being used in larger, civic efforts,” Dawson says. “We wanted to see an expanded role for art in our community.”

With that goal, “we moved towards being more intentional in regard to creating art that helped expand communities,” Greiner, 45, adds.

The trust they developed in their professional relationship stems from the depth of that passion. “Matt and I have complementary skills and experience,” the 46-year-old Dawson says. “What makes it work is our values. The intent of our work is the same. We really believe in artists and want to see them have value.”

Once Dawson and Greiner know what a client wants out of a project, they solicit artists for concept proposals, for which the artists are compensated. When a final design is chosen, they serve as the connection between the client and the artist, making sure both feel heard and informed throughout the construction and installation process.

“At their core, I see both Teva and Mat as connectors and advocates for collaboration and meaningful artwork,” says composer Beau Kenyon, who worked with them on the “River Constellation” project. “They are consistently looking for opportunities to help artists be more successful and more integrated in our community.”

Whatever the project, the two always keep their mission at the center of their thoughts: connecting people through art, appreciating and compensating artists, and holding up a mirror through which a community can see the best parts of itself.

“I want to live in a place that feels authentic,” Dawson says. “I want things that feel special, things that feel like they’re of this community.”

Some of Group Creative’s current projects promise to further engage the community:

  • They developed the vision and structure for Invest DSM’s new artist in residency program. The artist, Eleanor Kahn, is expected to complete a public installation in the Drake Dogtown neighborhood later this spring.
  • The Shoreline Signals project uses public art “as an essential safety tool and educational overlay” for the Central Iowa Water Trails initiative, Greiner says. Proposals from the three finalists are expected by late March, and the artist will be chosen in April.
  • The duo created a public art master plan for Grimes as well as a plan to install artwork along a 4.1-mile stretch of the High Trestle Trail in Ankeny.

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