ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
ChopTalk It's about more than just bacon

Iowans love their bacon, yet few know about pig farming. Laurie Johns connects you to Iowa pig farmers, the lives they live, the challenges they face and the impact on us all.
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The annual festival "I'll Make Me a World in Iowa" may look different this year, but it will still celebrate the state's African American culture virtually. Your Queens, a storytelling group shown above, will perform.


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

For nearly 25 years, Iowans have celebrated the state’s African American culture with an annual festival called "I’ll Make Me a World in Iowa." That world looks different this year. The Black Lives Matter movement has reinvigorated the struggle for social justice and equity, and the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the festival’s organizers to move it online on Feb. 26 and 27.

But its mission remains: to help all Iowans understand and appreciate African American contributions to art, history and culture.

“We’re rising to the occasion,” says festival executive director Betty Andrews, who has helped organize the event since it started in 1998. “This year allows us to rethink, reengage, reexamine and look toward the future.”

This year, the festival’s Education Day on Friday offers a “virtual field trip” with guided activities, a college fair and two competitions: a “Biz Pitch” event for young entrepreneurs and a Black History Oratory competition in the tradition of powerful speakers like Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells and Martin Luther King Jr.

During the Celebration Day on Saturday, the actor and producer Christian Keyes headlines a lineup that includes a performance by the storytelling group Your Queens. The program also features the premiere of a documentary series about Iowa’s Civil Rights history, produced by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, because “African American history is every American’s history,” Andrews says. “It’s a part of all of our history.”

Registration is free, and details are posted here.
EleanorGrace, a teenage vocalist in Des Moines, is one of four Iowa artists part of the Iowa Arts Council's Digital Stage initiative. Photo: Billy Dohrmann.


Writer: Montana Smith
Iowa Arts Council

Over the last year, dancers and basketball players weren’t the only ones pivoting. Musicians, performing artists, filmmakers—and their fans—have improvised so many new routines that some are likely to stick even when more venues reopen.

The Iowa Arts Council launched its #IowaKeepsCreating: Digital Stage for that reason. Even amid the challenges and opportunities of a global pandemic and a reinvigorated national movement for civil rights, Iowa artists and performers have created work and expanded the boundaries of digital media—and audiences have been eagerly listening and watching.

"The digital stage is really an effort to amplify and celebrate the voices and works of Iowa artists who keep creating through it all,” says David Schmitz, who leads the Iowa Arts Council. “Even while our stages and theaters are dark, Iowa artists have kept us connected, inspired and entertained. We hope this new virtual platform makes it easier for artists to connect with appreciative audiences and listeners, and vice versa."

The first slate of videos and music on the digital stage focuses on the theme of “Resilience.” Here are a few talented Iowa artists you can watch right now: Lily DeTaeye (Iowa City), Dawson Davenport (Meskwaki Settlement near Tama), Fred Ebong (Cedar Rapids) and EleanorGrace (Des Moines).

If you see something you like, be sure to toss a few bucks into the virtual tip jar, purchase the artists’ work and show your support on social media.
Lincoln Savings Bank – The making of a uniquely Iowan video series

Between coffee chats at a handful of Des Moines coffee shops, the plan began to take shape in late 2019 and into early 2020. Discussions centered on an idea for a video series telling the rich stories of Lincoln Savings Bank, which was created more than a century ago in small-town Lincoln, Iowa, with funny, spirited and informative tones. Needless to say, this was unique to the financial services industry.
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Kristen Greteman, one of the 20 artists who documented Iowa's state parks, photographs the Pine Creek Grist Mill at Wildcat Den State Park in 2019. Photo: Iowa DNR


More than 100 years ago, Backbone State Park in Delaware County became Iowa's first state park. Since then, the park system has grown to 72 parks and forests across the state. An exhibition to celebrate last year's centennial, named "20 Artists, 20 Parks," was created in 2019 and is now on display at the Sioux City Art Center through May 9—the final stop in its 2020-21 statewide tour.  

The project, which began in 2019, matched 20 faculty and graduate student artists from three of Iowa State University’s colleges—Design; Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Liberal Arts and Sciences—with 20 state parks to create personalized artwork. The parks were selected based on their ecological, geological and cultural experiences.

A number of organizations had a hand in "20 Artists, 20 Parks," including the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa State University College of Design and the Iowa Arts Council.

The Sioux City Art Center is open with regular hours. Social distancing and face coverings are required. Find a list of artists and more information about "20 Artists, 20 Parks" here.

Read our feature on the project, "Art in the Parks," from our ia magazine.  
The Dey House in Iowa City is the home of the University of Iowa's acclaimed Writers' Workshop. Photo: Travel Iowa


Contributed by Travel Iowa

As the home of the original capitol of the state, Iowa City has deep roots in Iowa’s history. But there is another part of its story that some may not know—a historical footprint in the state and country’s literary world. And you can experience it yourself, through Iowa City's Self-Guided Literary Tour.

Here are a few attractions to put on the list for your next trip:

Dey House (507 N. Clinton St.): Home of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the Glenn Schaeffer Library and Archives as well as reading rooms, classrooms and faculty offices.

Shambaugh House (430 N. Clinton St.): Home to the International Writing Program (IWP), a unique conduit for literature that connects well-established writers from around the globe and introduces American writers to other cultures through reading tours.

Currier Hall (413 N. Clinton St.): A residence hall  where Flannery O’Connor, a famous mid-20th century novelist, short story writer and essayist, lived during her time in the Iowa Writers' Workshop. It's also where Mildred Wirt Benson, an American journalist, stayed while in Iowa City.

North Clinton Boarding House (126 N. Clinton St.): The former location of a boarding house near the dorms where playwright Tennessee Williams lived during his time as a student.

Van Allen Hall (30 N. Dubuque St.): Home to many readings and events for writers like Carolyn Kizer and Louise Gluck.

Read the full story here. It originally appeared in the Travel Iowa magazine, which you can read here.
Detail of a flag covered in sequins and beads at the Waterloo Center for the Arts, created by Haitian artist Myrlande Constant.


Writer: Michael Morain

When the staff at the Waterloo Center for the Arts unpacked a donation a few years ago, they could hardly believe what they saw: more than 100 banners from Haiti, glittering with hand-sewn beads. They were patterned after traditional flags used to conjure voodoo spirits during fire-lit ceremonies.

The museum team filled a gallery with their favorites for a 2017 show that fulfilled curator Chawne Paige’s vision to “encrust that whole space with beads and sequins.”

But those banner-stuffed suitcases weren’t the first bundles of Haitian art to arrive in Iowa. Since the 1960s, sunburned Iowans have returned from trips to the Caribbean country with all sorts of textiles, paintings and sculptures. Over time, they donated so much to their local museums that the Waterloo Center for the Arts and Davenport’s Figge Art Center now house two of the largest Haitian art collections in the world.

What really put those museums on the map was research. When the first Haitian-art donations landed at the Figge in the 1960s and at the Waterloo Center for the Arts in the 1970s, curators realized they didn’t know very much about Haitian art or artists. So they made a concerted effort to learn more. They applied for research grants. They visited Port-au-Prince and Miami. They reached out to dealers, collectors and academics.

“The passion spread to other people in the community,” says Andrew Wallace, the Figge’s director of collections and exhibitions. “So today, Iowa has two of the earliest and most important collections of Haitian art in the country.”

Read the rest of the story from ia magazine here.
Past performance of "Macbeth" at Riverside Theatre. The community theater will relocate to the Ped Mall area in downtown Iowa City. Photo: Riverside Theatre


Iowa City's Riverside Theatre will have a new home. It's in the historic Crescent Building on the Ped Mall in downtown Iowa City. The location, which is being renovated by the Tailwind Group, will house a 150-seat performance space designed by Iowa City-based Neumann Monson Architects.

Riverside Theatre was created 40 years ago and previously occupied a building on Gilbert Street for more than 30 years. The new location will allow the organization to offer "accessible spaces for smaller events such as concerts and cabaret, in addition to the larger, more flexible main stage itself," co-chairs Lois Cox and Cynthia Schmidt wrote in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. They added that "patrons will find a bigger, more comfortable lobby with floor-to-ceiling windows looking over the Ped Mall. Performers will enjoy better amenities and more spacious dressing and green rooms."

Stay updated on the theater project—which doesn't have a timeline as of yet—on Riverside Theatre's website.
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