ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
We surely would welcome this to our Thanksgiving table: Iowa master chef Aaron Holt's wild berry crisp topped with vanilla bean ice cream. Photographer: Duane Tinkey.


Even with the intense upheaval of 2020, we know there are still countless reasons to give thanks. Here at Business Publications, the parent company of ia and dsm magazines, we are grateful for all of you—our  readers.

This year has also been one of growth for the ia brand. We launched this newsletter earlier this year and released a new print magazine over the summer. We've brought you stories that showcase Iowa's engaging destinations, vibrant culture and intriguing people. Thank you for coming along on the journey with us, and happy Thanksgiving!
The Brazilian 2wins at the American Gothic House in Eldon. The duo will perform at the Celebrate Iowa Gala virtual event. Photo: Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.


It would be hard to pack more “Iowa” into the Celebrate Iowa Gala. This year's event will be online Dec. 11 and hosted by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs with a program that includes musical performances at the Surf Ballroom, Art Church and American Gothic House; a peek inside Sioux City’s recently reopened Warrior Hotel; virtual visits to museums and the Maytag Dairy Farms; plus pop-in appearances from Gov. Kim Reynolds, opera singer Simon Estes and actor Tom Arnold.

All that’s missing is a partridge in a pear treeor maybe a goldfinch in a wild rosebush.

“We can’t wait to show off some of the many, many reasons Iowa is such a special place,” Iowa Department of Affairs Director Chris Kramer says. “This year especially, we’re eager to offer Iowans a can’t-miss occasion for celebration.”

The ninth annual gala, like so many other holiday traditions, is shifting to a virtual format to avoid the risk of spreading the coronavirus. The benefit event for the State Historical Society of Iowa usually takes place at the society’s flagship museum near the state Capitol.

But with this year’s challenges come opportunities to feature art, history and culture from across the state for guests from even beyond the state’s borders.

This year’s VIP reception will honor the memory of the Oscar-winning actress Donna Reed, who was born almost 100 years ago on Jan. 27, 1921. Her daughter, Mary Owen, will kick off a yearlong centennial celebration with a special Broadway guest joining in from New York.

“Donna Reed’s legacy lives on, not only in western Iowa but across the world,” says Liz Gilman, who leads Produce Iowa, the film and media division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. “She's a Hollywood icon. But even more than that, it's been amazing to research all the people who have benefited from the Donna Reed Foundation in Denison. Donna had such great respect for education and the performing arts, and her legacy is still relevant today.”

The VIP reception starts at 6 p.m. on Dec. 11, followed by a 7 p.m. showcase of Iowa culture and an 8 p.m. cultural mixer, when guests can enjoy live music, answer trivia questions about Iowa history and draw self-portraits with tips from artists from the Portrait Studio in Des Moines.

Tickets range from $25 to $250 and are available online at
Iowa native Maddie Poppe won season 16 of "American Idol."


Maddie Poppe, who rose to fame as a singer on "American Idol" and is an Iowa native, is doing something special for the holidays. This week, she released her "Christmas From Home" album, featuring covers of some of the most well-known holiday songs.

Poppe, who is from Clarksville, will also tour throughout Iowa starting in December, playing in Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and more. Shows will have social distancing and require masks for admission. The tour, called "Maddie Poppe's Acoustic Christmas," is sold out in several locations. The first show with tickets available is on Dec. 13 in Dubuque. The tour will also stop in Arnolds Park and Red Oak.

Find the new album and full tour list on Poppe's website.
At Mom's Meals, we believe that better health begins with the meals we eat. We all need access to nutritious, tasty food to fill and fuel our lives. Mom's Meals takes care of others as if they are part of our own family, with every meal we make and deliver to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries across the country. Carrying this mission forward is more than just a delivery service; by providing clients the choice of what they want to eat, we are empowering better health. READ MORE >
Simon Estes is one of the most renowned names in Iowa music and will be honored on the national stage.


Simon Estes, Iowa native and world-renowned opera star, will be inducted as a part of the inaugural OPERA America Hall of Fame class in New York City. He'll be honored in a ceremony in early 2021. The class is made up of 10 people out of 199 nominations.

Estes has performed more than 100 roles in opera, singing in 84 different opera houses around the world. His resume includes performances for six U.S. presidents and many dignitaries, including Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela. He grew up in Centerville, the grandson of a slave and the son of a coal miner. He met Charles Kellis, professor of music at the University of Iowa, which began his journey in opera, eventually attending the Julliard School of Music in New York.

Estes is a visiting professor of music at Des Moines Area Community College and has a building named after him at Iowa State University, Simon Estes Music Hall. We've profiled Estes in our sister publication, dsm magazine. Here's his 2018 profile for the annual Sages Over 70 awards and a first-person story of his life. We also recently profiled his fight to end hunger in Iowa.
Catherine Reinhart, “Artifact: Shirt” (2020), free-motion stitching, trapunto quilting; 18 by 15.5 inches.
Image courtesy of the artist.


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Don’t worry too much about your dirty laundry. There’s a fine line between “mess” and “inspiration.”

“One day, I looked at a pile of laundry on the floor and thought, ‘Oh, that totally looks like the mountain I was just drawing,’” recalls the Ames artist Catherine Reinhart.

She wadded up a shirt, embroidered its outline on a piece of fabric, and stitched in some features of an imaginary map to create the first in a series she calls “The Topography of Dwelling.” Later, she formed an archipelago of socks.

She started “mapping the home landscape,” as she puts it, before the COVID-19 pandemic. But her artwork about homemaking and caregiving has taken on new meaning over the past few months, when we’ve all spent more time at home, exploring the contours and confines of our own domestic landscapes.

Reinhart, who received an Iowa Artist Fellowship earlier this year from the Iowa Arts Council, is interested in what she calls “the underpaid, undervalued labor that holds up our society.”

For her, textiles tie together the worlds of fine art and everyday homemaking. The repetitive steps her artwork requires—folding and cutting and stuffing and stitching—often represent the mundane but comforting rituals of housework and parenting. Something always needs to be cleaned or repaired.

Over the last few years, Reinhart has stitched new life into old materials and ideas. In her hands, a polyester quilt from the 1970s became the “Leisure Suit Series” of deconstructed fiber drawings that were displayed at the state Capitol in Des Moines.

Another old quilt inspired her project “The Collective Mending Sessions,” a new take on the traditional quilting bee. Her recent fellowship has encouraged her to expand the project over the next few years and, perhaps, spin off an exhibition and a book.

In the meantime, Reinhart is raising two kids and working through a yearlong Artist Residency in Motherhood, a program that encourages artists to work at home instead of at some private retreat.

There is certainly plenty of material. When Reinhart’s friend, a mother of five, mentioned she was hanging on to at least 25 single socks, just in case their long-lost matches ever turned up, the artist offered a guilt-free solution: “You need to give those to me.”

Tune in: Reinhart plans to discuss "The Collective Mending Sessions" at 10 a.m. Friday during an online event organized by the Stitching Together Network. The event is free, but registration is required.
Cedar Rapids poet Akwi Nji tells stories for a living, launching a storytelling nonprofit in 2016 called the Hook.


Writer: Timothy Meinch

When Akwi Nji made her stage debut for live storytelling, it felt like coming home—for the first time.

That sensation was especially meaningful, she says, after spending most of her life feeling like an outsider, first in Cameroon and later in eastern Iowa. Now Nji (pronounced “en-gee”) invites as many people as possible onto stages and into audiences across Iowa to share stories.

Her vehicle is the Hook, a nonprofit that Nji launched in 2016 for live storytelling, including poetry readings and performance art. Her own inspiration started with SPT Theatre in Cedar Rapids after graduating from the University of Iowa.

Live storytelling, rooted in oral traditions older than any other type of human entertainment, forges powerful connections and change, the 40-year-old Nji says. And, when executed properly, listeners feel just as vulnerable as the speaker.

“The audience has put their trust in me, that whatever I say onstage they’re going to be able to manage it,” Nji says. “They can’t just shut the book.”

Nji, who has two daughters, was born to a black father and white mother. She spent her earliest years in Cameroon; then her family moved to Springville outside Cedar Rapids by the time she turned 8.

“In both places I was an outsider,” she says. But she sees a through-line, a theme connecting these worlds on opposite sides of the globe: rich dirt. “What I remember is the soil in both places,” she says. “What my siblings and I did for fun and entertainment was spend a heck of a lot of time playing in the dirt.”

Specifically, she recalls Caterpillar Hill behind her house. To anyone else, it looked like a construction site littered with dusty earthmovers. But for Nji, it was her playground—named after the Caterpillar machines—and claimed as her own space.

The Hook has become a much bigger playground for Nji—and anyone who wants to broaden their perspective on the world.

For more information on Hook events, visit
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