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A Seat At The Table

A Conversation About Cultural Equity In The Arts

In an intentional effort to elevate cultural equity, diversity, and inclusion in our arts and culture community, the Des Moines Arts Festival hosts a quarterly conversation on how you can find your “Seat at the Table." Each conversation will include a panel of community partners sharing how they've been working towards cultural equity and how we, as a community, can collaborate to elevate the arts.

A Seat at the Table is facilitated by Kate Hightshoe.

Recordings from previous sessions are available in the recordings section below.

Questions? Please reach out to Daphne at ddickens@desmoinesartsfestival.org

2023 sessions to be announced

Thank you to everyone who participated in our 2022 A Seat at the Table series! We had amazing panelists and thought provoking conversation. Revisit any session or learn more about panelists through the links below.

2023 session information will be announced soon!


2022 February Panelists

Cadex Herrera is a multi-disciplinary artist, who brings awareness to humanitarian, social and environmental injustices by championing my culture, history, people of color, immigrants and marginalized peoples. His aim is to create art that empowers the viewer as well as elevate the subjects and themes that he explores through my work.

"My aspirations as an artist is that through my art I can bring awareness and dialogue to a small fraction of the many social injustices that are part of my reality. I believe social consciousness and art can be tools to exact positive change, as well as inspire to create and make a difference in our local as well as our global community."


Herrera was one of three muralists who created the George Floyd mural in Minneapolis. “We wanted to portray him in a positive light, not as a martyr but as a hero," said Herrera. Located just above where Floyd took his last breaths, the mural has become an anchor for a community in mourning, and a symbol of how artists are working to help their neighbors grieve.
Art News, June 1, 2020.

Connect with Herrera: Website // Facebook // Instagram



Emmett Phillips is a facilitator at Oakridge Neighborhood. He is a Hip-Hop Artist, poet, teaching artist, and actor who’s performed from St. Louis to New York City. Emmett has worked with Des Moines Public Schools, the Des Moines Play House, Pyramid Theatre Company, and more. He is most passionate about using his art forms as a way to tell stories that promote equality, social justice, and freedom.
Connect with Phillips: Facebook // Instagram // Email



Iowa-based artist, Jill Wells has firmly situated herself within art and advocacy work. A 2005 graduate of Drake University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, she is well known for her dynamic, colorful, and tactile multimedia works investigating race, history, stereotypes, accessibility, and human experiences. By exploring the powerful alignment between arts integration and Universal Design, Wells' work seeks solutions for innovative pathways into accessible art.
In her practice, Wells engages with individuals of all abilities, through various interdisciplinary art workshops and talks to create new modes of working through the arts, that is truly inclusive and representational. Without shying away from the complicated socio-political histories relevant to the world, Wells’ interactive, multimedia works “are transforming the art scene through social engagement and she is building a future of advocacy through the arts.”
Connect with Wells: Website // Facebook // Instagram

2022 May Panelists

Sesó Marentes is an Iowa born Artist from Des Moines, Iowa. His works are a commentary of his life experience having been raised in Iowa. Born between the fine line of 2 cultures his work is derived from his unique experience as a father creating momentum for fatherhood rights in the state of Iowa and advocating for underprivileged individuals both youth and adult to break out of stereotypical stigmas. His work, much like himself, cannot be labeled with just one style. He is a multi disciplined artisan who allows his unique way for story telling to best describe his multi facet style.
Connect with Marentes: Website // Email

Michael Nuñez is part of the Des Moines based band, Son Peruchos. They play a fusion of Andean, South American, Latin and Caribbean music and you can find them playing at local venues and festivals.


2022 August Panelists

Justice Arts Coalition (JAC) unites teaching artists, arts advocates, artists who are or have been incarcerated and their allies, harnessing the transformative power of the arts to reimagine justice. Through the sharing of resources, stories, and learning opportunities, JAC is building a nationwide collective of people who are committed to increasing opportunities for creative expression in carceral settings, amplifying the voices of those most impacted by mass incarceration, and shaping public dialogue around the intersection of the arts and justice. Initially formed by veteran teaching artists Judith Tannenbaum, Julia Taylor, Emily Harris, Allie Horevitz, Rachael Zafer (Hudak), Jaime Nelson, and Suzanne Gothard in 2008 as the Prison Arts Coalition, JAC has remained a grassroots, volunteer-led project throughout its recent transformation into a national 501c3 nonprofit organization. The organization is led by Founder & Director Wendy Jason.

Carole Alden was born in Orleans, France to American parents. She grew up in the Western US, where she began her art practice, first in clay and bronze, then after her children were born, shifted to fiber. She was incarcerated in 2006 for an act committed in self-defense after severe domestic violence. She served 13 years in prison, where she created art against all odds, developing her whimsical wildlife sculptures as well as a body of work that reflects experiences of women dealing with domestic violence and the legal system. Her work has been shown at national and international conferences and exhibits.
Having spent many years as a successful public artist prior to her incarceration, Carole struggled to find materials to create with inside. She taught herself to crochet and developed her own innovative techniques, reflecting on her own experiences and crafting vibrant worlds in the colorless setting of prison. This fantastical and colorful artwork that Carole created inside her prison cell, was a militant act in the face of her confinement within a system that criminalizes survivors of trauma and abuse.
While incarcerated, Carole supported other women by teaching art and mentoring other survivors of domestic violence and abuse. Carole has long had a vision to support other women who are experiencing abuse or healing from trauma, particularly women in rural communities who have fewer resources available to them.
After her release in 2019, Carole realized that she needed stability and secure housing for herself before she could help other women. Her instinct to make art, no matter what, led to the vision for the Fish House: a glowing larger-than-life fish sculpture rising out of the desert where she could live with her chickens and pet fish. The fish structure will also house an art studio. Once she is set up there, she will upgrade the land for a retreat space and therapeutic sculpture workshops where other survivors can come, learn, create and heal.
Connect with Alden: Website // Desert Shelter & Healing Project

Brett Gonzalez, J.A.C. Chair, is originally from San Antonio, Texas, and an artist currently incarcerated in a federal facility in Fort Worth, Texas. When first imprisoned, a friend encouraged expression through drawing as a coping mechanism for his new environment. Inspired by this new sense of empowerment, he enrolled int he institution's Hobby Craft program where he received a surprisingly thorough art education from another inmate. Brett's deep love of art, found in an unlikely environment, fuels his desire to support other system impacted artists as they discover art for themselves. Brett is the author of "Pandemic Lockdowns as Pathways to Empathy," published in Mississippi Quarterly's Special Issue on mass incarceration in the US South.
Connect with Gonzalez: Website

2022 November Panelist

Kelly Montijo Fink (Apache / Mexican / Spanish), is a bilingual educator, international speaker & award-winning singer / songwriter & recording artist. Kelly is in her 26th year as an adjunct instructor at Kirkwood Community College, teaching both Spanish and English Language Acquisition classes. Kelly has a M.A. in Spanish Linguistics from the University of Iowa and received a B.A. from Cornell College, double majoring in Anthropology & Spanish. She received a certificate with honors for completing a year-long study of “Language, Latin American, & European Studies” from the Fundación Ortega y Gasset in Toledo, Spain. Since 2013 she has served on the Iowa Commission on the Status of Native American Affairs, currently serving as the vice-chair. As a singer / songwriter & recording artist, she’s won two NAMMYS (Native American Music Awards) as well as having received an Indigenous Music Award nomination in Canada.
Connect with Montijo Fink: Website // Email

CONVERSATION RECORDINGS

(click on the date to view)

November 3, 2022 conversation
How the Arts Communicate the Native American Experience, Part 2
We welcomed back Kelly Montijo Fink to learn more about how history plays a part in the Native American story today; including equity in visual and performing arts, colorism within communities, and partnerships.

August 9, 2022 conversation
Healing Through Art
This session will focus in on the important role art plays in healing and empowering people who are incarcerated, as well as how art influences the re-entry process. Leadership from The Justice Arts Coalition and artists who are part of the program will share their experiences and how their art practices impact their daily lives.
Panelists: Wendy Jason, The Justice Arts Coalition (JAC) founder/co-director, Carole Alden, artist, JAC Advisory Council member, and founder of Desert Shelter + Healing Art Project, and Brett Gonzalez, artist and JAC Board Chair.


May 3, 2022 conversation
Latino Heritage and the Influence on American Art and Culture
Prepare for Cinco de Mayo with an exploration of how naming and identity impact art and culture.
Panelists: Sesó Marentes (multi-disciplinary artist) and Michael Nuñez (musician)

February 3, 2022 conversation
BLM Today and Tomorrow: Pain and Healing through Art
A look back (and forward) on how the arts give way to communication and healing. The expression of remembrance through visual art, dance, music, and words. Panelists include Cadex Herrera, Emmett Phillips, and Jill Wells.

November 11, 2021 conversation
Kate Hightshoe and Kelly Montijo Fink led an open dialogue from the American Indian perspective about cultural equity regarding American Indian art, and the influence of American Indian culture on American art.

May 26, 2021 conversation
In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, our May conversation included topics of positive/negative stereotypes, the "model minority" and breaking the "bamboo ceiling." Panelists includes Clarence Padilla (educator and Des Moines Symphony Member), Christine Her (Executive Director of Art Force Iowa), and Pragnya Yogesh (owner of Indian Dance Academy and CultureAll ambassador)– facilitated by Kate Hightshoe.

February 11, 2021 conversation
Thanks to those who joined us on for a conversation in celebration of Black History Month: Transforming Barriers into Opportunities. Expert panel included local community creative and educator Emmett Phillips , artist H.C. Porter, and Des Moines Symphony member, Jason Wells. This conversation will be facilitated by Kate Hightshoe.

December 17, 2020 conversation
Expert panel included Executive Director of the Des Moines Art Festival, Stephen King, Executive Director of BRAVO Greater Des Moines, Sally Dix, and Des Moines Artist INC facilitator Beau Kenyon and Dr. A'ndrea Wilson; facilitated by Kate Hightshoe.


Meet the Facilitator

Kate Hightshoe has a proven track record in implementing cultural change management strategies at all organization levels – organizational compliance and enterprise risk management and mitigation - and community building, development, and engagement. Her areas of expertise include the strategic building of highly functioning teams and partnerships designed to support business objectives and sustainability - convening conversations and opportunities for innovation and creative business - and tying equity, inclusion, diversity and accessibility values and initiatives to corporate strategy that can further assist the organization in achieving key objectives. Kate has her BA in Oboe Performance and minor in Music Composition from the University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Interdisciplinary Masters: American Culture, American History, American Music. Kate is the immediate past Chair of the Inclusion Council for the Greater Des Moines Partnership, serves on The Des Moines Symphony EDI Committee, the Board of Directors for the Des Moines Art Center, and the Executive Board of Directors for BRAVO Des Moines.
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