ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Northeast Iowa’s bluffs bordering the Mississippi River provide some of the top fall foliage views in the state. Now to mid-October offers optimal peeping at towns such as Lansing, McGregor, Guttenberg and Dubuque. This view is from near McGregor and Pikes Peak State Park.


Writer: Beth Eslinger

Here at our home base in Des Moines on the first week of fall, the maples downtown and on Grand Avenue are seeing lipstick red kisses. These maples serve as early indicators it’s time to get out and enjoy the season. Bonus: Fall drives and hikes amid nature make for ideal social-distancing escapes.

Through the DNR’s website, you can track the optimal spots to soak in the views as recommended by the state’s top foresters. You'll find the latest colors statewide and can even sign up to receive weekly color reports.

Peaks start early in the northern third of the state—now to mid-October. Central Iowa typically spikes for viewing the first through third weeks of October, and southern Iowa extends the season to the last half of that month.

Autumn is a top time to visit state parks to enjoy the season, says Iowa Outdoors Magazine editor Brian Button with the DNR. Near McGregor: “Pikes Peak State Park offers America’s most majestic views of its mightiest river with the highest bluff on the entire 2,330-mile length of the Mississippi River. You can take in expansive views of forested bluffs in a riot of color, a maze of backwater islands below, and boats and barges, plus there are 11 miles of hiking amid fall color."
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This is the scene above Jefferson, which has been transformed by art created by local residents and volunteers.
Photo: Daubendiek Photography.


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

It’s easy to get a bit stir-crazy if you’re spending more time at home.

So when you’re ready to look beyond your backyard—way beyond—ride the elevator to the top of the Mahanay Bell Tower, which rises 168 feet above the Jefferson square. Its glassed-in observation deck offers a bird’s-eye view in every direction, from the town to the farm fields to the silo-spiked horizon.

The tower was built in 1966 with a bequest from a local couple, Floyd and Dora Mahanay, to the people of Jefferson, who have made the most of the unusual landmark. They celebrate the Bell Tower Festival every summer and, over the past few years, have painted several murals on the rooftops of neighboring buildings.

The “Tower View” paintings, which you can see best from the tower, pay tribute to all sorts of Jefferson slices of life, including railroads, wind turbines, the newish casino, a beloved local piano teacher, and the NASA astronaut Loren Shriver, who grew up nearby.

Together, the murals are part of an ambitious public art project that has transformed the town square into an outdoor gallery—and earned Jefferson a 2018 Governor’s Arts Award from the Iowa Arts Council.

Local artists and volunteers have installed sculptures around the Greene County Courthouse. They’ve added artwork to a spot called “Sally’s Alley.” This fall the artist David Williamson, who lives over near Ogden, is installing a trio of 19-foot steel arches in another alley, which will be dedicated next year.

“It’s not just the big cities that have public art. You can do cool art projects in small towns, too,” says Williamson’s sister, Deb McGinn, who works for Jefferson Matters: Main Street. “When people come to visit, I hope they see that Jefferson appreciates the arts and our artists.”

The Mahanay Bell Tower is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily through September and then 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends or by appointment, with public-health protocols to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Masks are required.
Erik Dominguez is a professional storytelling coach, and he's helping Perry residents tell their personal tales.
Photo: Ivory House Photography.


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Everyone has a story to tell. In Perry, folks have someone to help polish it.

Erik Dominguez, a professional storytelling coach in Des Moines, will soon begin an artist-in-residence project with the Perry nonprofit Art on the Prairie to help local residents develop and perform five- to 10-minute personal stories—and to encourage their friends and neighbors to do the same. His three rounds of coaching sessions in the winter and spring will culminate with a live storytelling event next summer, either online or at the Perry Performing Arts Center.

The project got a boost with a highly competitive grant of $45,000 from Arts Midwest, a regional partner of the Iowa Arts Council, as part of a program called “We the Many,” which aims to expand how people understand what it means to be Midwestern.

Perry “is such a wonderful example of what’s happening in our entire country,” Dominguez says. He cited the town’s immigrants, its history and its pride in the arts, “which you can’t ignore. You drive through town and see sculptures and paintings all over the place.”

Dominguez is an immigrant himself. He moved to Arizona from Mexico when he was 8 years old and moved again to Des Moines. He recently started his own company, called Speak Up Stories, to help people “transform fear into fuel” for effective public speaking.

“A lot of people hesitate to tell their stories because they don’t know how or they don’t have a venue,” he says. “A program like the one in Perry helps heal individual hearts and the heart of the community.”
Iowa City’s Clinton Street Social Club dishes concoctions such as the Aviation (with gin, maraschino liqueur, fresh-squeezed lemon and crème de violette) and tasty bites, including oysters on the half-shell, charcuterie and cheese boards, and bacon-wrapped dates.


Prohibition banned the sale of alcohol in the United States during the 1920s and early 1930s. Many bars stayed open, though—they just kept a low profile, sometimes literally (think basement hideaways). Speakeasies, as the clandestine clubs were called, served spirits on the sly to customers who found the right doors, said the right words and knew the right people. Prohibition ended, but not the appeal of the backdoor booze era. Today, several Iowa bars—old and new—offer that intoxicating air of speakeasy secrecy.

Bar Winslow (Cedar Falls): Find this new-in-2019 Prohibition-inspired craft cocktail bar in the historic Black Hawk Hotel—once known as the Winslow House. Go old-school with an Old-Fashioned, get a little tipsy with a Leaning Sour of Pisa (with nutty Pisa liqueur), or feel the sting of Bees on Fire (gin, lemon, honey and cinnamon). Vintage bonus: original penny tile on the floors. (115 Main St.)

Barley's Bar (Council Bluffs): This saloon-style speakeasy doesn’t try to hide, but it has that old-timey feel, with lots of woodwork and brick. Beer is the star (it was illegal during Prohibition, too), with taps rotating lagers, pale ales, malty brown ales and stouts. Barley’s favors Iowa craft brewers, like Exile in Des Moines and Coralville’s Backpocket Brewing, maker of coffee stout Wake the F Up Iowa. (114 W. Broadway)

Clinton Street Social Club (Iowa City):
Sandwiched between two larger buildings, the entrance is easy to miss. Stairs lead up to the bar—and views of Old Capitol and the Pentacrest. Fresh-squeezed juices and house-made mixers flavor cocktails such as the bracing Destination Wedding in the Arctic Circle (gin, vermouth and green Chartreuse), deadly Grandpa’s Coffin (bourbon, applejack, scotch, sugar and bitters), and cure-all the Penicillin (scotch, lemon and honey-ginger). (18 ½ S. Clinton St.)

Find the rest of the list in a story in our 2020 issue of ia magazine.
Adventureland Park in Altoona will host an Oktoberfest next weekend for those 21 and older. Photo: Catch Des Moines.


It's officially fall, and October is fast approaching. While the pandemic has forced many of Iowa's Oktoberfest organizers to cancel, there are still a few around the state planning to move forward. Remember to social distance and wear masks, in accordance with federal guidelines.  

Waterloo: Sept. 26; noon to midnight: This celebration, named Iowa Oktoberfest, takes place in downtown Waterloo at Anton's Garden, a German-style outdoor beer garden. Live entertainment starts at 2 p.m. with Tim the Music Man. Barefoot Becky plays at 5:30 p.m. There also will be beer, food and contests while you dress up in your best dirndls and lederhosen. Admission is free.

Des Moines: Oct. 3; 11 a.m.-10 p.m.: Adventureland Park in Altoona is hosting its sixth annual Oktoberfest, with live entertainment (music, comedy, magic and more), rides, drinks and a fireworks show. Five different stages will feature more than a dozen Iowa musicians, including the Pork Tornadoes, Pie in the Sky and Electric Shock. Admission is $45 through today, then it increases to $50. You must be 21 or older to enter. Parking is free, and you can leave cars overnight.

Sioux City: Oct. 3; 1-4:30 p.m.: An outdoor Oktoberfest celebration is slated for the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City. The event will feature music, food and drinks on the outside plaza. Oktoberfest beers will be on tap from local breweries along with domestic selections. Bobby Z and Polka Joy will also provide live music. To allow for social distancing, tickets will include a table reservation. They are $10 per seat and purchasers must buy the entire table. Single tickets will not be sold.
The Amana Colonies canceled its annual Oktoberfest celebration, but it is holding smaller and safer events through early November. Photo: Amana Colonies.


The Amana Colonies canceled its well-known Oktoberfest celebration because of COVID-19, but in its place are eight weekends of Autumn in Amana, a smaller series of events featuring a new focus every week. It runs through Nov. 8.

This weekend is called "A Taste of the Colonies." Local vendors will be open for shoppers all weekend. Also, the Wine, Chocolate and Beer Walk, which was postponed from May, will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday. Ten local businesses will have samples of their specialties. You can purchase a passport card for $3 and get it punched at each business. When you’ve visited eight, turn in the card and receive a wine glass.

Here's the schedule for the rest of the events: Oct. 2-4, A Touch of Germany; Oct. 10-11, Leaf Us Alone, a weekend of outdoor adventures; Oct.17-18, Arts and Antiques in Amana (find more information on the area's antiques and arts here); Oct. 24-25, Pumpkinfest; Oct. 31-Nov. 1, Halloweekend; Nov. 6-8, Girls Getaway Weekend.

Find more information here.
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