The best of Iowa arts and culture
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This new twice-monthly newsletter is being produced by ia, an annual guide to arts and culture in Iowa.


Some of youthe readers of dsm magazine and the Business Recordare familiar with ia, our annual statewide magazine. As we've covered the state over the years, we've seen its beauty in our parks and landscapes and its vibrancy in our cities and towns. So we're not surprised when we manage to fill each new issue of ia—and now, a twice-monthly free newsletter to keep readers informed and inspired throughout the year.

Like the magazine, this newsletter will strive to elevate and celebrate our state through stories of Iowa's thriving arts and cultural scene, inviting destinations, food and dining options, and stunning homes and gardens. We invite you to join us. Christine Riccelli, editor-in-chief
Chef Aaron Holt at a Dinner at the Barn at Lone Oaks Farm. Photo: Christopher Maharry.


By Wini Moranville

Farm to table? That’s not the headline anymore. For over two decades now, Iowa chefs have become increasingly committed to sourcing the foods they prepare from as nearby as possible. Diners at better restaurants pretty much expect it.

Chef Aaron Holt, however, is doing something Iowans don’t see quite as often. Not only is he committed to the farm-to-table ethos, he’s moving the table closer to the farm. Sourcing from as many Iowa food growers and producers as possible, Holt pairs with wineries and event-venue owners to stage dinners in rural and small-town locales.

Most events require diners to drive through the fields, meadows and woodlands of our landscapeand that’s part of the appeal. For example, four times a growing season, Holt’s cuisine is featured in the "Dinner at the Barn at Lone Oaks Farm" series. Located on an acreage near Winterset and set amid a gently sloped landscape of grasses, wildflowers and timber, the Barn is a circa 1850s structure that’s been beautifully restored as a performance and events venue.

"The coolest part of these dinners is the setting," Holt says. "You’re driving among the hills of Madison County and you roll over this hill, and you see this big, beautiful old barn surrounded by all this countryside."

Holt is being modest here: Certainly, one of coolest parts of the dinners is the setting, but his food ranks right up there, too. Holt, who was named the Iowa Restaurant Association Chef of the Year in 2018, was previously the executive chef at Des Moines’ popular RoCA. He knows how to craft fresh, thoughtful cuisine that’s Iowa-hearty, strikingly refined and perfect for both the season and sense of place.

Holt also heads up similar farm-to-table dinners at Prairie Moon Winery near Ames, Covered Bridges Winery in rural Madison County and the Open Door, an events center crafted from a renovated circa 1900 home in Iowa Falls.

Keep up with where to catch one of Holt’s dinners by following him on Facebook at Doolittle Farms LLC.
The Dubuque Opera House is the most elegant of venues in the city's annual film festival. Photo: Travel Iowa.


Film lovers, plan now to attend the ninth annual Julien Dubuque International Film Festival April 22-26 in, predictably enough, Dubuque. It’s a rite of spring in northeast Iowa. In recent years, thousands have flocked to the event, featuring more than 100 films shown in every possible venue—restaurants, bars, shops and the city’s elegant opera house. The festival spans eight city blocks and four busy days.

All manner of movies are shown, each selected by a two-stage process: Films are first reviewed by a community panel, then by film industry professionals. About $30,000 is awarded each year to various categories of filmmakers. Festivalgoers never know if they’re going to meet a celebrity on the street or chat with a film’s director. That’s all part of the fun.

For details on this year’s festival, check the website
Artist Nancy Thompson paints alongside Wesley Creek at Lacey-Keosauqua State Park.


To celebrate the centennial of Iowa’s state parks, 20 artists from Iowa State University spent last summer creating art in 20 state parks. The result? An exhibition called "20 Artists, 20 Parks" that’s traveling around Iowa this year.

"Iowans have found beauty in the state parks for a century now, ever since Backbone State Park opened in 1920 near Strawberry Point," says Todd Coffelt, state parks bureau chief for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which is presenting the exhibit along with the Iowa Arts Council and ISU. "So we organized the '20 Artists, 20 Parks’ project to celebrate that legacy."

The works are as varied as the parks themselves. Artist Deb Pappenheimer, for example, stitched together a hand-dyed fabric collage of birds she spotted at Walnut Woods State Park in West Des Moines. Olivia Valentine has assembled photos into multimedia works that explore Viking Lake State Park near Stanton. Nancy Thompson painted the sky after a hailstorm at Lacey Keosauqua State Park in Van Buren County.

The exhibit runs through May 9 at the Polk County Heritage Gallery in Des Moines before moving to the Dubuque Museum of Art (May 30-Sept. 20), the Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum (Sept. 30-Jan. 8, 2021) and Design on Main in downtown Ames (the dates are still to be determined).   

To learn more about the project, read this story on the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs' blog.
Popular bars and restaurants line Main Street in downtown Cedar Falls. 


After three decades of restoration and renovation, this university town’s comeback is complete. Today, downtown Cedar Falls buzzes with 30-some bars and restaurants, dozens of boutiques, plus entertainment venues, a gaming arcade and day spas. But don’t worry; it’s not too cute: A few dive bars, a thrift shop and an offbeat, packed-to-the-gills train shop keep downtown a little funky.

Even more impressive, and of interest to the weekend traveler, is how the lively city’s core seamlessly connects to outdoor recreational opportunities, including over 100 miles of hard-surface trails. Once you get downtown, you can enjoy an entirely car-less weekend escape.

Join us on a weekend visit to this fun town through the story "36 Hours in Cedar Falls." 

International jazz sax sensation Melissa Aldana brings her quartet to Hancher Auditorium March 25.


Looking for major musical entertainment? Representing a variety of genres, this six-pack of shows includes our choices for the best in Iowa in the coming weeks:
• Chilean jazz saxophonist Melissa Aldana performs with her quartet in Iowa City, March 25. Details.
Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox performs in Davenport March 31. Details.
• Country superstar Dwight Yoakam performs in Davenport April 9. Details.
• Country crossover artist Alison Krauss
appears May 17 in Ames. Details.
• Blues guitarist Jonny Lang
is in Des Moines April 18. Details.
• Legends: Cher
in Des Moines April 16 (details) and Elton John in Des Moines June 11 (details).

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