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 Hotel Millwright in Amana opened last fall, combining historic and modern touches. Photo: Hotel Millwright


Writer: Beth Eslinger

New on the scene last fall, Hotel Millwright in Amana has us eager to reexplore the Amana Colonies this spring. Located in a historic textile mill, the hotel features upscale amenities, including fine dining.

The boutique hotel offers 65 rooms, plus several suites and studios. The historic Amana Woolen Mills complex benefited from a $15 million renovation that brought out the best of the mill’s character. Exposed brick and pipes reflect the history, as does artwork throughout the rooms and common spaces.

The hotel is within quick walking distance of Amana’s shops and restaurants. But you’ll want to start first at the hotel’s restaurant, the Indigo Room. The restaurant elevates Amana fare—find tomahawk chops, braised short ribs, jumbo scallops and harvest salads on the menu to enjoy with a craft cocktail or brew.

Also on-site, the Electric Thread Social Club serves  beers, bourbon flights from local distillers, and cocktails. The former electric building is now a cool industrial hangout, complete with a patio overlooking Millrace stream.

Upcoming Events

April 4: For Easter, the restaurant is hosting two brunch seatings—at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. The three-hour service includes an omelet bar, a carving station, breakfast burritos and more, plus bottomless bloody marys or mimosas. Reservations required (see Facebook for information).

May 1: Mai Fest takes over the green space at the hotel. There’s a hog roast, lawn games, live music and specialty drinks for a day of spring fun. It’s a Saturday this year, so a perfect weekend for an overnight stay.
Violinist Layale Chaker will play with her quintet on April 29. Photo: Hancher Auditorium


The University of Iowa's Hancher Auditorium has a number of digital shows planned for March and April. Admission is free, but advanced registration is required. Here's a rundown:

Mark Morris in Conversation: Renowned choreographer Mark Morris will host two separate conversations, one with composer Nico Muhly (7:30 p.m. today) and the other with chef Alice Waters (7:30 p.m. March 18). TV journalist Paula Zahn will moderate.

United We Swing: Jazz and American History: Hancher Auditorium is partnering with the Lincoln Center in New York City for a virtual series on the history of jazz. Starting on March 24 with "Louis Armstrong and the Explosion of Swing," the six-week program includes lectures on different jazz musicians and topics.

Pacifica Quartet and Anthony McGill: On March 30, this string quartet will be joined by Anthony McGill, principal clarinet with the New York Philharmonic. The concert is recorded just for the Hancher Auditorium audience.

Layale Chaker: This award-winning violinist will perform with her quintet on April 29. The music lineup draws from her critically acclaimed "Inner Rhyme" album as well as an upcoming "Bards" project.

Find the full schedule here.
Lincoln Savings Bank sets the bar for financial tech

Local banks can keep up with the big boys in technology, and LSB does. They were even awarded the fintech of the year from the technology association of Iowa. Can your bank say that?
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Effie and Addie Chery, two of the Cherry Sisters who rose to popularity for their poor performances, are being dubbed the "Best Worst Act in the World." Photo: State Historical Society of Iowa


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but the Cherry Sisters disagreed. The five sisters from Marion received so many nasty reviews for their vaudeville act in the late 1800s that they sued a Des Moines newspaper for libel.

“Their long skinny arms, equipped with talons at the extremities, swung mechanically and soon were waved frantically at the suffering audience,” according to the review, which originally appeared in the Odebolt Chronicle. “Their mouths opened like caverns, and sounds like the wailing of damned souls issued therefrom.”

Eesh. Were they really that bad? Were they in on the joke?

You can find out at noon March 17, when the London-based music historian Darryl Bullock presents “The Cherry Sisters: The Best Worst Act in the World.” It’s a free, online program hosted by the State Historical Society of Iowa, which supplied many of the resources for his 2018 book about the infamous quintet—Addie, Effie, Ella, Lizzie and Jessie.

Bullock also wrote a book about Florence Foster Jenkins, the, um … uniquely gifted singer that Meryl Streep portrayed in a 2016 movie.

“I first became interested in ‘bad’ music in the early 1980s, as a teenager, working in a local record store,” Bullock wrote in an email. “It was a time when record companies were issuing lots of novelty records—things like The Singing Sheep—and then, in 1983, I picked up an imported copy of a Rhino Records’ LP with the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Gloria Balsam and Jimmy Cross’ ‘I Want My Baby Back,’ and I was hooked!”

Even so, the Cherry Sisters were in a league of their own. They were, “without a doubt, the worst act in the history of America,” the journalist Michael Gartner notes in a video about the sisters’ landmark lawsuit (which they lost). “They were just awful. They couldn’t dance. They couldn’t sing. They couldn’t even talk very well.”

But they sure could make history. The program on March 17 is part of the State Historical Society of Iowa’s offerings for Iowa History Month and the yearlong commemoration of Iowa’s 175th Anniversary.
Yolanda Jefferson’s family compares her to a train that “just keeps going and going and going.” Photo: Emily Blobaum


Writer: Rachel Vogel Quinn

Yolanda Jefferson has risked getting fired to feed the hungry. While managing a cafe at a homeless shelter, she once overheard a woman telling her daughter that it was the only food she would get that day. Jefferson loaded up the mother’s car with extras from the cafe, despite the rule against it.

“If I see a need, I immediately jump on it,” she says. “Food is love to me. When you feed somebody, you’re loving them.”

Jefferson, 49, has been feeding people in Davenport for over 20 years. A professional chef, she makes her living from Black Pearl Catering, but her passion is Chefy Bear on Wheels, a community service project she started two years ago.

Through conversations in her community, Jefferson heard about people facing illness and unemployment who couldn’t access local resources. Through Chefy Bear, she feeds between 50 and 200 people a day, cooking lunch for pickup six days out of seven. Most people need only a few weeks of free meals before they can get back on their feet.

“It doesn’t make sense that, in this country, in this day and age, people have to jump through hoops to get food,” she says. “There is too much food out here that is going to waste that needs to be in people’s stomachs.”

Read the rest of this story and other "Hunger Warriors" in our Iowa Stops Hunger publication.

Iowa Stops Hunger is an 18-month-long Business Publications Corp. initiative to bring awareness and action to food insecurity in Iowa.
The Dubuque Museum of Art is open with restrictions but also digitized its collection and exhibitions for online viewing. Photo: Travel Dubuque.


If you're looking to get your art fix from anywhere in the state, three exhibitions are on display at the Dubuque Museum of Art, which offers virtual tours on its website.

"Olson's Art Through the Ages": Twelve oil paintings from Dubuque artist Tim Olson feature in this showing. Olson describes his works as combining "regional subject matter (crime stories, landscapes, portraits) with paintings from the past."

"2100 And Counting": The museum is showcasing the growth of its collection over the past two decades. According to its website, its permanent collection jumped from 500 works in 1999 to over 2,600 currently (an addition of 2,100 works, hence the exhibition name).

"Women of the Americas": Galena, Illinois, artist Janet Checker presents a selection of five paintings of women in full traditional dress, set in North, Central and South America.
The Sindt family—from left, Austin, Justine, Kevin, Tina and Aaron—runs East of Omaha, a music venue in Griswold. Photo: Heart of Hoye Photography.


Listen up: A music venue called East of Omaha opened a couple of years ago in Griswold, about halfway between Red Oak and Atlantic.

A local family, the Sindts, fixed up the property (a former grocery store) and hosted their first concert in May 2019.

It’s been pretty quiet during the pandemic, but the place now hosts about two concerts each month, with capacity limits to keep folks safe. There’s a mix of musicians from western Iowa, plus touring acts from Minneapolis, Kansas City and Nashville, where manager Justine Sindt spent some time before returning to her hometown.

Though she says she's "tone-deaf," her business skills have come in handy. She successfully applied for an Iowa Arts Council grant to help pay the bills during the pandemic and has lined up a few events for the spring, including tributes to Elton John, Billy Joel and REO Speedwagon, plus a country cover band called “Nebraska Showdown.” Bring it on.
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