April 29, 2011
Dave Loewenstein and the murals he paints have a great deal in common: They are colorful, tell fascinating stories and have far-reaching impact.
Loewenstein, 44, is an artist, muralist, printmaker, teacher, author, community activist, documentarian and social catalyst, who has lived in Lawrence doing all of these things since 1990. He is also a founding member and current chair of the Percolator, a non-profit that brings new art and cultural events to Lawrence and Douglas County.
He came to Lawrence to attend graduate school for his master’s degree of fine arts from Kansas University. During his studies, he realized that he wanted his art to serve a greater purpose.
“I wanted what I was doing somehow to reach audiences outside the established art audience, to people I meet every day,” Loewenstein says. “I also felt like there was a social purpose for visual art that wasn’t being used enough — to engage in important issues of the day.”
Loewenstein has created murals throughout Kansas and the Midwest. Locally, his murals can be found at Cordley School, the Lawrence Farmers’ Market and Quinton’s Bar & Deli, home to his first mural.
He travels about half of the year to communities to talk about the most important issues in their community and create murals to be shared with generations to come. While planning his murals, he enjoys the opportunity to meet people and expose them to the visual arts.
“One of the many discussions that needs to be re-framed in our culture is the one about art,” he says. “Artists have always had the incredible power to highlight when things are wrong and the power to influence. Murals involve re-engaging with the visual environment and creating something that is a reflection of people and places.”
Saralyn Reece Hardy, director of KU’s Spencer Museum of Art, knows Loewenstein and his approach to art and culture.
“He doesn’t think of art as a rarefied commodity; he thinks of it as part of community life,” she says. “He is not a one-man form. He involves many collaborators, which is a good model for community art.”
Loewenstein has designed and printed posters for many anti-war protests, starting with the Gulf War in 1991-92, influenced by historical wartime posters.
“Printmaking is a way for me to respond to the issues of the day. There are not enough voices of dissent — I don’t care what side you’re on,” he says. “There are maybe more online and less face-to-face, and that concerns me.”
Loewenstein and other members and visitors to the Percolator studio space, which is just east of the Lawrence Arts Center, regularly have the chance to have those face-to-face discussions about issues and art. Besides showcasing artists’ work, Percolator members also generate their own artwork, invite artists to speak and host workshops.
Christina Hoxie, Percolator board member, says the open-endedness of the Percolator is what makes it special.
“Its prime mission is to stimulate the community to make arts and do cultural projects important to them,” Hoxie says. “It’s tapping into the imagination of the community and seeing what they want to do.”
She says that Loewenstein is the ideal facilitator for the Percolator.
“He is a great mentor, not just as an artist. The community is transformed by his artwork every day, and making sure everyone has a part to play is a big part of who he is,” Hoxie says. “Even his smaller works show what an insightful person that he is and carry his spirit of always encouraging others to participate.”
Reece Hardy says that Loewenstein’s energy and community involvement come through in his art.
“He has an unusual ability to bring economy to a complex set of ideas,” Reece Hardy says. “Sometimes that takes the vehicle of a poster, sometimes it takes the vehicle of a mural. He likes to communicate directly and strips any protective barrier between people and art.”
Loewenstein is creating art for a downtown show called “Them,” which will discuss NIMBYs — “not in my backyard” scenarios. He teaches a class about community art at Washburn University, he is co-producing his second documentary about his art, and he is waiting to hear if he will go abroad next fall as part of an art program with the State Department.
Loewenstein is happy he came to Lawrence.
“This is a place I care about and I feel some responsibility to,” he says. “I’m super-grateful to have all the work I do on all fronts.”
Watch a short video of Dave talking about making a living as an artist here.