ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Sculptor Linda Lewis of West Des Moines sells these ceramic songbirds on
Photo: Mainframe Studios


Writer: Jeff Morgan
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

The ritual of buying and wrapping presents can be a work of art each holiday season.  

But this year, savvy gift-givers can work up two-for-one magic when they turn to local artists for ideas. Many Iowa artists and musicians lost multiple revenue streams last spring when venues closed and events were canceled. The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs has distributed more than $3 million in grants funded by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) act and plans to disburse an additional $7 million later this month—but artists and arts organizations are still struggling due to lost revenue.

So how can Iowans help? Here are a few ideas:

Shop Iowa: A new online marketplace from the Iowa Economic Development Authority helps Iowa businesses sell their goods and services. Find unique gifts from Iowa shops, artists and craftspeople.

Etsy: The site is a global marketplace for original artwork and handmade creative goods. It’s a sprawling website, but shoppers can narrow their search with the keywords “Iowa artist.”

Mainframe Market: This hub of art studios in downtown Des Moines offers dozens of gift ideas from member artists.

Artist Sunday: Even though Artist Sunday (Nov. 29) has passed, shoppers can still use the website’s directory to find Iowa artists with original art for sale.

Here are a few more ways to support Iowa artists during the holidays and into the new year:

  • Commission a local artist to create a piece of art or purchase work from a gallery.
  • Hire a local musician to perform online through platforms like
  • Buy a gift certificate for an online class in creative writing, painting, dance or other creative mediums.
  • Become a member or make a donation to a local arts organization—or make a donation in someone else’s name.
  • Buy tickets or a subscription to a performing arts series. Many organizations are offering virtual performances and announcing plans for their 2021 seasons.

This article was provided by the Iowa Culture Wire, a service of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.
The Brucemore Mansion is decked out in holiday decor for its annual programs and tours. Photo: Brucemore Mansion


For those in eastern Iowa, the Brucemore Mansion in Cedar Rapids might spark childhood memories. Its annual holiday tours showcase the Queen Anne-style building in its best festive decor. And after being closed since March, the mansion has reopened for safe and socially distant tours.

Three tour packages are available: A Brucemore Christmas (a tour of the first floor, $10); A Children's Christmas (a tour of the first floor, plus activities or children, $10); and Holiday Nights (an extended evening tour of three floors, $15). Visitors can also enjoy a sneak peek at the holidays at Brucemore through an online exhibit.

“We know that visiting Brucemore during the holidays is a tradition for many families," said Tara Richards, director of community engagement, in a release. “Knowing what this experience means to so many people, we worked to find a safe way to allow the tradition to continue this year while keeping safety in mind.”

This year’s programs have been designed to create distance between family groups, limit capacity, and minimize contact. Masks will be required of all people over the age of 2. Tours will be self-guided, allowing families to book a private time slot to start their visit and to explore on their own. Tickets will only be sold in advance.

Buy your tickets here.
An Old-Fashioned is one of the cocktails Joe Gunnells with Ken's shows us how to make.


Are you looking for a new cocktail recipe to try? At our ia magazine unveiling event over the summer, we partnered with a handful of restaurants to share some of their best food and drinks. In this showcase, Joe Gunnells with Ken's, a not-so-secret speakeasy bar below the Iowa Taproom in Des Moines, shows us how to make Prohibition-era drinks, namely an Old-Fashioned and a sidecar.

Watch the video here.
Give the gift of an Iowa craft coffee tour through Des Moines-based Lokoly Coffee Club. Orders are due tomorrow, Dec. 11, and will be shipped next week.


Writer: Beth Eslinger

For the java fan on your list, Lokoly Coffee Club’s new “Tour of Iowa” gift box might be the boldest gift of all this holiday season.

Lokoly packaged this collection of hard-to-find Iowa coffees from roasters you likely haven’t heard of. (They’re from Ames, West Union, Fort Madison and Tama.) As part of the gift box, which retails for $89.99, you’ll receive four blends of either whole bean or ground coffee, a “Layers of Iowa” mug from Bozz Prints in West Des Moines, and two coffee club coasters. Plus, $5 of each purchase benefits the Food Bank of Iowa.

The light to medium blends include Swed & Co. Coffee’s Ethiopian Yirgacheffe (it’s thought to be the birthplace of the magic beans) and Jack's Feed Store Blend, a medium roast with chocolatey, earthy and rustic notes from Ross Street Roasting in Tama.

Shop the site for other gift box options—including a coffee club membership and Midwest-based gift pack.

Orders for the Iowa tour box are due tomorrow. Click here to get yours.
These hikers are exploring the trails at Big Creek State Park. Parks throughout the state are open all winter.
Photo: Brian Button.


Writer: Beth Eslinger

Coming off their 100th anniversary—and a year when outdoor activities saw a popularity surge due to COVID-19—the state’s parks continue to entice Iowans with hiking, biking, angling and more.

While the Department of Natural Resources is pivoting from organized First Day Hikes events this year due to social-distancing concerns (last year saw more than 400 trekking through Walnut Woods on Jan. 1, for example), the DNR is continuing to promote diverse activities through the Iowa Park Passport.

Through the free app, you can explore trails for hiking, biking and snowshoeing, and also discover cabins, camping, shelter rentals and other amenities. Every park you visit, the app automatically stamps your passport using geofencing. As New Year’s Day falls on a Friday this year, the DNR staff anticipates crowds won't be as concentrated, so it’s a perfect time to bag a few new parks and start logging your 2021 experiences.

“This year really shined a light on how valuable and vital Iowa state parks are to residents and travelers,” said Jessica O’Riley, tourism communications manager at the Iowa Economic Development Authority. “We’re fortunate to have such an impressive range of parks to suit anyone’s passions. The parks provided the perfect venue to be active while still practicing social distancing.”

Click here to get access to the free app. Or text PARKS to 515-531-5995.
Maytag Dairy Farms out of Newton will release a new blue cheese, Farm Reserve, more widely in 2021.
Photo: Maytag Dairy Farms


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

One of Iowa’s most iconic businesses is involved in a cover-up. Maytag Dairy Farms is leaving the rind on some wheels of their famous blue cheese.

The art and science of cheesemaking, of course, requires just the right mix of ingredients to mature over the course of many weeks or months. So even a small change in an early step can dramatically alter the final product.

For nearly 80 years, the cheesemakers in Newton have trimmed the rinds off their wheels of blue cheese after they age and ripen in the hillside caves. But with the new product, called Maytag Farm Reserve, the natural, edible rinds are left on to encourage the special bacteria (Penicillium roqueforti) to work more of their funky, moldy magic.

“With the rind on, the cheese ages from inside out and outside in,” says Robert Wadzinski, a third-generation cheesemaker and Maytag's vice president for product development.

So while the traditional product offers a “clean, buttery taste profile with a little bit of sharpness and that salty tang you expect from blue cheese,” says Noreen Otto, the company’s chief administrative officer, the new version is “more earthy, with an almost nutty flavor.” It’s also denser and creamier, “almost like fudge or cheesecake.”

Many other blue cheese producers—in France, California, Oregon and elsewhere—sell rind-on varieties.

Maytag decided to develop its own version to offer something new in the ever-evolving market of specialty foods. “We talk a lot about legacy here at Maytag,” Otto says. “It’s not just created in the past, in our history. For us, it’s a living, vibrant thing, and we think about how to carry it into the future.”

The company plans to release the Farm Reserve more widely in 2021. Until then, cheese fans who want a blue Christmas can find it online and at the Maytag visitors' center, the Newton Hy-Vee and several specialty shops in Des Moines.

Learn more about Maytag Dairy Farms and the producers of several other Iowa specialties during the Celebrate Iowa Gala on Friday, Dec. 11. Tickets and information are available here.
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