The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the editor: To the President’s office and the Center for Prairie Studies

As a Grinnellian I have become increasingly attached to my temporary home of Iowa. The notions I came here with have been challenged through events in town, visits to other parts of Iowa, and associations with those who live here. That is why I am disappointed by the President’s Office and the Center for Prairie Studies decision to purchase “Portrait of an Agrarian Place, a project by David Ottenstein” and the insistence they be hung in Burling Gallery.

As an employee of the Faulconer Gallery, I have been fortunate to see the strengths of the College’s collection, and as a student I have seen both masterful and thought-provoking works; Ottenstein’s photos are neither. Simply, they are nice photos. Ottenstein’s works focus on presenting a decrepit and rotting place, one rooted in failing agricultural pursuits, when this is not the only story Iowa has to tell. While Iowa’s ties to agriculture are important, Ottenstein’s story is one even a girl from New York City knows. Why is the college glorifying an artistic decision that solely romanticizes the stereotypical notions of Iowa, like corn, isolation, and more corn? These works do little to spark debates or conversations beyond “That’s pretty.” While I applaud you for shining a spotlight on what, for most, is our temporary home, I implore you to rethink what deserves to be purchased and hung on campus, especially when we have Grinnellians, both current and alum, who take beautiful, celebratory, and thought provoking photographs. Next time you want to acquire work that represents Iowa, please challenge your stereotypes so you can better challenge us as students.

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