ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Snowboarders and skiers are welcome at Sundown Mountain Resort west of Dubuque. Photo: Travel Dubuque


Writer: Beth Eslinger

Been craving a day or weekend in the snow but not ready to head to the mountains? Give Sundown Mountain Resort a try. Located just west of Dubuque, the scenic resort is an easy, convenient getaway to give your turns a tuneup.

This season, which runs through March 7, visitors can purchase passes and rentals in advance and also order food to-go for social distancing. The runs—which include a 475-foot drop—are suited for all levels of skiers and snowboarders, with a majority tagged beginner and intermediate. Lessons are also available.

Snowboarders can practice tricks at the two terrain parks. All 21 trails are open, and there’s a solid snow base (the resort also has snow-making). And unlike resorts in the west, there’s night skiing—Friday nights are open until midnight.

Find stay-and-ski packages at several area hotels, including Hotel Julian Dubuque (yes, there’s a spa, dining and the Riverboat Lounge for an apres-ski cocktail).
The Schneider House, an early Prairie School home in Mason City, headlines one of the tours in the Iowa Architectural Foundation's three-event series. Photo: Travel Mason City


In the early 20th century, Iowa was a significant player in the development of Prairie School architecture. The idea was simple: Craft homes based on surrounding landscapes—an escape from mass production brought about by the 19th century.

The Iowa Architectural Foundation is exploring this style and other early 20th-century homes in a three-part virtual series, "The Prairie School in Iowa." Participants will tour some of Iowa's one-of-a-kind houses, many built more than a century ago.

At the kickoff, on Feb. 9, Paula Mohr, an architecture historian, and Ryan Ellsworth, an architect with Estes Construction, will take participants through the history of Prairie School architecture. The second event, on Feb. 16, will be a virtual tour of the Meier House in Monona, the state's only American System-Built House, a style created by Frank Lloyd Wright. The final installment will feature the Schneider and Page houses in Mason City, part of the first Prairie School development in the United States. Homeowners will be on hand for the tours and Q&As.

Tickets are $35 until Feb. 1, when they increase to $45. Grab your spot here.
Jim Brickman will perform virtually as a part of Stephens Auditorium and Adler Theatre's slate of virtual shows.


For some Iowa theaters, the shows must go on—even if they are online. Here are a few upcoming virtual performances you can enjoy from anywhere in the state.

Jim Brickman (Adler Theatre, Stephens Auditorium; Feb. 12-14): Grammy-nominated songwriter and pianist Jim Brickman will play some of his hit love songs, such as “Love of My Life,” “Destiny,”Angel Eyes” and “Valentine. Tickets are $40 until Feb. 1, when they increase to $50. Both Stephens Auditorium in Ames and Adler Theatre in Dubuque are selling virtual spots.

"Out of Bounds" (Theatre Cedar Rapids; Feb. 12-20): This virtual performance explores the world of cyber-bullying and complicated choices young people make when navigating the politics of friendship. Tickets go on sale Feb. 4.  

"Ghost Creek" (Englert Theatre; Feb. 16): Join this virtual screening of the short film "Ghost Creek," which showcases a deserted Iowa City and what happens when a town loses arts, culture and community. Access to the stream starts at $5.

"Mountain Goat Mountain" (Des Moines Performing Arts; Feb. 20-March 7): If you want to get away from the screen, this family-friendly performance is audio-only and allows listeners to build their own worlds with just a (big) piece of paper. Tickets are $10.
The documentary “Ultra,” from Bruce James Bales of Des Moines, follows Caleb Smith's journey as he skates his way down the California Coastal Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Photo: Bruce James Bales


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

If you could tell a story—any story—to the entire state of Iowa, what would it be?

That’s the essential question at the heart of “The Film Lounge,” an annual showcase of Iowa filmmaking featured on Iowa PBS. The fifth season of the popular television series premieres Feb. 6 with a mix of short films that focus on, among others, a lighthouse keeper in Ireland, a guy who skates down the California coast, and a husband who worries his wife might replace him with a mail-order clone.

The films are limited only by their creators’ vision and imagination. Documentaries, flights of fiction, music videos—they’re all fair game, as long as they run between two and 20 minutes.

“A lot of filmmakers in Iowa have day jobs and report to clients who may take their projects in various directions,” says Liz Gilman, who leads Produce Iowa, the state office of film and media production. “In ‘The Film Lounge,’ they can flex their creative muscles with whatever stories they want to tell the world.”

Gilman launched a pilot show called “Cinema Iowa” on public television in 2014 shortly after the state film office reopened as part of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. Three years later she enlisted help from the Iowa Arts Council, another division in the same department, and together with Iowa PBS launched "The Film Lounge.”

Lucius Pham, a senior at Drake University, took a chance and recently submitted a music video featuring the Des Moines hip-hop artist Teller Bank$. It pairs fictional flashbacks of the star’s earlier days hustling on the streets with current shots of him living large.

Pham is eager to see it air statewide. He says he's produced videos before, but this is “definitely the first time one of my rap videos will be on PBS.”

The two new episodes air at 11 p.m. Feb. 6  and 7 (Episode 501) and Feb. 13 and 14 (Episode 502). Fans also can tune in to a pair of virtual watch parties with the filmmakers at 4 p.m. Feb. 6 (Episode 501) and 4 p.m. Feb. 13 (Episode 502).
The Surf Ballroom, shown circa 1948, is one of the most well-known music venues in Iowa. It was named a National Historic Landmark earlier this month. Photo: State Historical Society of Iowa


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

At the famous Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, you don’t have to wonder what the walls would say if they could talk. In a sense, they actually do. The greenroom behind the stage bears the signatures of hundreds of stars who have performed here over the years, from Alice Cooper to ZZ Top.

Few places in Iowa—or in the world—conjure up the sounds of the past as vividly as this beautifully preserved ballroom on the north shore of Clear Lake. Iowans are justly proud of it, and now other Americans can be, too. On Jan. 13, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated the Surf as a National Historic Landmark.

“The Surf Ballroom is a national treasure. You can almost feel the energy and hear the echoes of all the concerts over the years,” says Chris Kramer, who directs the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. “The soundtrack of the 20th century played live, right here in Clear Lake, Iowa.”

The most familiar chapter of the Surf’s story, of course, happened on a snowy night in 1959. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson Jr. had just played for a packed house before they boarded a small plane bound for the next stop on their Winter Dance Party tour.

The crumpled plane was discovered in a farm field the next morning on Feb. 3, 1959—a date Don McLean immortalized as “the day the music died” in his 1971 hit “American Pie.”

The Surf Ballroom was built in 1948 on the site of a previous ballroom that burned down the year before. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places 2012 and recognized as a historic rock 'n' roll landmark in 2019 by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Today, the Surf is operated by the nonprofit North Iowa Cultural Center and Museum, which annually hosts about 30 shows and thousands of visitors.

The ballroom is Iowa’s 27th National Historic Landmark, joining a list of iconic sites such as the state Capitol and the Sergeant Floyd Monument in Sioux City, which became the country’s first National Historic Landmark when it was designated in 1960.


Just south of Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines is a “living classroom” for Des Moines high schoolers interested in agriculture careers. One of its goals: providing food for local residents who need a little extra help, especially as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the way Iowans live, work and eat.

“Basically, we’re raising hogs for those who have a difficult time affording or obtaining meat on their own,” says Kevin Anderson, an animal science instructor for Des Moines Public Schools. “It started with a pig we were gifted by the Animal Learning Center at the Iowa State Fair. We thought, what better use for this animal than to use it to feed those in need?”

Anderson and his students worked with Story City Locker in Story City to harvest the meat and deliver it free to the Des Moines Area Religious Council food pantry network. Three years later, about 60 students from all five Des Moines high schools and several surrounding communities are enrolled in the academy’s agriscience program and earn college credit for, among other things, raising hogs to benefit DMARC pantry patrons.

Emma Aston, 17, a student at the academy, says the program has been meaningful. “Everyone should have access to nutritious food, especially those who can’t afford it,” says the Hoover High School senior. “When you know your project is going towards a good cause, [the satisfaction] is always worth the sweat.”

Read the rest of "Growers Give Back" from our Iowa Stops Hunger issue.

Iowa Stops Hunger is an 18-month-long Business Publications Corp. initiative to bring awareness and action to food insecurity in Iowa.

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