ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
ChopTalk: Animal care requires a team approach

Iowa raises lots of pigs! So, you may have questions about their care. ChopTalk host Laurie Johns talks about animal care with a livestock trucker and ISU expert.
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In early spring, redbud trees pop with pink blooms all around 70-acre Red Haw Lake. Visit for a scenic hike or paddle. Photo: Iowa DNR


We’ve noticed here in Greater Des Moines the redbud trees are just starting to bloom with this week’s warm weather.

Perhaps the best spot to see these spring beauties is at Red Haw State Park near Chariton. Located about an hour slightly southeast of Des Moines, the park is an easy day trip for a paddle, hike or a scenic picnic.

A 4-mile trail loops around the lake and is easy for beginners and young families. Hike amid a low canopy of the blooming trees on the grassy trail (wear long pants or bring insect spray). Wildflowers such as purple phlox also spring from the forest floor.

If you’re like many of us who invested in a kayak, canoe or paddleboard last year, Red Haw presents a prime spot to perfect this season’s strokes. Two boat ramps, including one that’s ADA-accessible, make put-ins and take-outs easy and convenient. Though fishing boats are allowed, the lake is wake-free.

And for visitors just wanting a scenic lunch spot, there are several spots for pulling out a picnic blanket and grabbing a snack.
The annual Julien Dubuque International Film Festival is back on this year but with safety precautions, such as masks and temperature checks. Photo: Digital Dubuque


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

For its 10th anniversary, the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival is going big. Organizers of the April 18-25 event have decided to combine the films that were supposed to be screened last year with a fresh batch of films for 2021. So here’s a quick look at the numbers.

Days: Eight—up from the usual five.

Films: 256double the usual.

Visiting filmmakers: 200.

Visitors: “I’d be thrilled if we had a couple thousand,” says Susan Gorrell.

The festival typically draws about 6,000 visitors to downtown Dubuque. After last year’s virtual version, it’s hard to guess how many will return in person.  

The festival’s board decided in early March to proceed this year with masks, temperature checks, limited capacities and social distancing. They’ve also consulted with local health care experts and hired a COVID compliance officer to train venue staff and volunteers to follow extra protocols to keep everybody safe.

“We’re one of the very first” film festivals to return to an in-person format, adds Gorrell. Last year’s virtual version was well-received, but it just wasn’t the same.

“It’s meant to be big, to make an economic impact, to be a destination where you come to watch amazing independent films you may not see anywhere else,” she says. So this year, “even if 50 people show up, at least we’re moving forward.”
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The "Dance into Spring" series kicks off on April 30 at Water Works Park in Des Moines. Photo: Ballet Des Moines


To celebrate spring, Ballet Des Moines has partnered with the University of Iowa's Hancher Auditorium to host "Dance into Spring," a tour featuring three performances across Iowa on April 30, May 1 and May 2.

Each evening will include five ballets with a range of performers, including the University of Iowa's Dance Company and the Roseman String Quartet (with members of the Des Moines Symphony). Guests from the Miami City Ballet will make an appearance as well, including Carlos Quenedit, a former Ballet Des Moines dancer, and Katia Carranza.

Here's the schedule:

Friday, April 30, at 7:30 p.m.: Lauridsen Amphitheater at Water Works Park in Des Moines.

Saturday, May 1, at 7:30 p.m.: Hancher Green outside Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City.

Sunday, May 2, at 5:30 p.m.: Riverside Park in Muscatine.

Masks and social distancing are required. Audience members should also bring their own chairs or blankets. Admission is free.
A poppy plant, captured through the lens of photographer Molly Wood, who was featured in dsm magazine in 2018.


By Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

April showers bring May flowers and, inevitably, Molly Wood and her camera.

“It’s kind of a rhythm,” she says. “As soon as spring hits, every weekend I’m shooting.”

The Des Moines photographer and 2018 Iowa Artist Fellow specializes in dramatic botanical photos that take cues from Dutch still-life paintings and highlight the natural cycles of life, death and rebirth.

To gather her floral subjects, she planted tulips in her yard last fall and hoped the deer didn't get to them first. Come May, she’ll make the rounds at Wildflower, a Des Moines shop on Ingersoll Avenue, and the pick-your-own fields at PepperHarrow Farm in Winterset and Rose Farm in Norwalk.

Sometimes her work takes her farther afield, too. She spent a week in 2019 at northern England’s Alnwick Castle (which “Harry Potter” fans will recognize as Hogwarts from the first two movies). Its legendary Poison Garden abounds with 100-some varieties of toxic, intoxicating and narcotic plants.

She learned the hard way not to spend too much time with a purple and pale yellow flower called henbane, which temporarily addled her memory.  

“It’s surprising how wicked it was,” she says. “The guys at the garden told me, ‘Yeah, we keep a bench by the henbane. We usually have a couple of fainters a week.'”

Wood’s “Fatal Flora” series focuses on plants that were found in medicinal gardens that were grown, usually by women, during the Renaissance. It was a dangerous field of study, both physically and politically, because it bumped up against the traditional healing roles of the church and the medical profession, both controlled by men. Some women herbalists were accused of witchcraft.

But there’s no denying the plants’ beauty. Wood is represented by Olson-Larsen Galleries in West Des Moines and has displayed her work throughout Iowa, including a popular solo exhibition at the Dubuque Museum of Art. Another solo show will open in August at the Sioux City Art Center.

Later this month her photos will liven up some temporary banners along a construction site on Ingersoll Avenue in Des Moines. Her giant flowers will bloom next to artwork by Gregory Malphurs and two other Iowa Artist Fellows, Mary Jones and Larassa Kabel. The project is coordinated by the Avenues, an Iowa Cultural & Entertainment District.
Michael Cavanaugh will perform classic Elton John and Billy Joel hits in shows at Gallagher Bluedorn in Cedar Falls on April 10.


On the University of Northern Iowa campus in Cedar Falls, the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center is presenting both virtual and in-person shows in April and May.

There is one in-person concert April 10 at 2 and 7 p.m. Michael Cavanaugh, a Broadway star known for his lead role in the musical "Movin’ Out," will sing hits from Billy Joel and Elton John. Tickets are sold in pods and safety measures will be in place.

On the virtual side, a recurring series, "Local Legends," features Cedar Valley musicians every Thursday at 8 p.m. through mid-June. Shows are streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

To find a full list of performances, visit the Gallagher Bluedorn website.


Writer: Karla Walsh

While cleaning out your pantry of canned and boxed foods is a start, you can make an even bigger difference in other ways to support hunger-related causes.

“Food donations are great, and I don’t ever want to discount the importance of traditional food drives,” says Dylan Lampe, senior manager for marketing and communications at the Food Bank of Iowa. But, he adds, the organization can maximize its impact through monetary donations ($50 funds 200 meals once the Food Bank taps into its cost-efficient food supply streams) or time (in the form of volunteering).

Here are some other ways you can help combat food insecurity across Iowa.

Sponsor a backpack buddy.
The Iowa Food Bank Association’s BackPack Program provides a bag of family-friendly, well-balanced food items to kids every Friday. Delivered free to partner schools, these weekend and school holiday meals allow kids to focus on learning in the classroom, rather than their growling stomachs, come Monday morning.

Each of the association’s food banks—the Food Bank of Iowa, Northeast Iowa Food Bank, Food Bank of the Siouxland, Food Bank for the Heartland, River Bend Food Bank and Hawkeye Area Community Action Program—offers the program. The food banks provide opportunities for volunteers to assemble the packs, and you also can make a donation at any level through the Iowa Food Bank Association ( or through any of the individual food banks to support students in your community. At the Food Bank of Iowa, for example, it costs $165 to sponsor a child for a full year.

Find six more ways to help in our Iowa Stops Hunger story here.

Iowa Stops Hunger is a Business Publications Corporation initiative to bring awareness and action to food insecurity in Iowa.

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