Zach DeBoer is having a moment.
Once he made the decision to ask developers of an empty building downtown if local artists could take over all four floors for a massive, two-day-only art installation, you can imagine the city was intrigued.
You should be, too. Nearly every single room of the former DM&E Building on Eighth Street and Phillips Avenue will be an art show of its own kind this weekend. There will be murals, pop-up galleries, sculptures, abstract installations and live music and drinks for good measure.
The experience for anyone who walks in to DM&E will be an overwhelming, delightful and quite radical realization of what our local artists are capable of.
It will be impossible not to be impressed with the talent, but for Zach, it’s just validation.
He’s seen all along how great his art community is — he knows there is so much we haven’t even experienced yet — and now is the time for him to stand up for them.
It’s a great moment for Zach, but if we’re lucky, this is only the beginning.
The idea for Art Maze came to Zach this past summer after a couple events transformed the former Food Pantry building into temporary art shows, and they were successful.
So he expanded on it — inviting over 50 artists to essentially use the DM&E space however they’d like.
“Our focus is really to create something original and something that reacts to this space only,” he says, because demolition of the building’s interior will begin as early as next week. But for everyone involved, that’s just fine with them.
“That’s the excitement of this event. Two days, and then you’ll never get to see it again!”
Hopefully, events like Art Maze will pique interest even more.
“Art really is such a great economic and development tool that people in Sioux Falls are just starting to understand,” Zach says. “Having a gallery space is becoming the new coffee shop. They see it as a trendy thing that will get people in their space or to experience whatever it is they have.”
For Zach, it’s about inviting communities to see art differently and to experience art like they haven’t before. And it’s an opportunity for an artist to prove how valuable their work can be. Maybe even to themselves.
“If you give an artist the space, they can transform anything.”
A supporter of the arts
Zach owns Exposure Gallery & Studios, which has been open downtown for about a year and a half now. With that, he’s done incredible things for the art community, offering a place where local makers feel a sense of belonging and possibility and hope.
That alone is successful.
But Zach is after so much more. To him, it’s important that an artist in any community is aware, understood, has meaningful relationships, is offered opportunity and is integrated into the city that they are trying to be successful in.
Somebody needs to help them get there.
“An artist and a young person is always going to be an underdog and is always going to have to fight to try to get new ideas out there or meet people,” Zach says. “So it’s fun to try to make those things happen and try to succeed and prove people wrong or show people that, ‘Yes, we can do this!’ ”
It’s a boldness that is refreshing for our little city. Last year, Zach initiated angled parking on North Main Street and invited artists to paint murals outside The Bakery. It was a wonderful success.
“I wanted to do it because it gave artists a giant piece of work on that street that people pass by and turn to see, but it also got art in front of a lot people who wouldn’t see it otherwise.”
How nice, right? As a persevering artist, to see someone like Zach have your back?
“To make those things happen is stressful, but it’s fun.”
For as overwhelming as shouldering fellow artists could be, this isn’t a burden for Zach. He does these things because he wants to, and he approaches the challenge as if he is the only who will.
And maybe he is.
‘Notebooks full’ of ideas
To advocate for the arts — and to successfully host events like Art Maze this weekend — Zach knows he needs to be out there, showing up and participating in what makes the city tick. So he attends City Council and Visual Arts Committee meetings and keeps an ear on urban planning.
“I like being in-the-know. If I’m in-the-know, then I can help artists be in-the-know,” Zach says. “I’m just trying to be knowledgable and aware of what’s going on downtown.”
So he can help to grow it.
“There is always going to be art, but we’re growing beyond that. And that’s really what I want to be able to do eventually — to be able to do bigger events for the city.”
Already, he has plans.
“I have notebooks full of ideas and events and programs, and it’s about picking the right one at the right time and not trying to plan too far ahead.”
Ideas include outdoor block parties on North Main Street, helping to re-open the State Theatre and helping to bring out immigrant artists in the community.
“They probably made beautiful things in their home country! Then they came here and they had to work and stop making.”
Beyond art, he’s thinking about a better downtown for Sioux Falls, too. He wants fewer cigarette butts and to help the homeless population. He wants to do all these things because, to him, why wouldn’t he be?
“My hope is that I can see a need or something that’s missing and address those problems by connecting and utilizing existing resources that are already out there,” Zach says. “It’s just about bringing an idea — a vision — to people and then connecting them and trying to make events happen.”
Much like himself, ironically, Zach says Sioux Falls is in “this perfect moment” right now.
“We’re at this crucial point where the things we’re doing with Art Maze and Exposure are showing people that you can stay here, you can continue to make art. We can support you, you can support yourself, and you can keep going, even beyond art!”
It’s the type of encouragement that could change a person.
But if we’re really watching closely, it’s a selfless act of leadership that could change a community.