ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
One of the Byways of Iowa artworks—a mosaic globe surrounded by telescopes to create kaleidoscopic images for each viewer— is in Postville. Photo: Byways of Iowa Foundation


By Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

The whole idea hatched with an eagle’s nest.

When some northeast Iowa students were asked how they’d improve a trail near their school between Elgin and Clermont, they suggested a sculpture of an eagle’s nest, like the real one that topped a tree nearby. So an artist installed a giant metal nest that people can fit in, like chirping eaglets. The site includes a pair of telescopes so folks can spot the actual eagles.

"Everybody got so darned excited about it, they thought we should have these everywhere," Rod Marlatt of Elgin said a few years ago, after the nest’s installation. Marlatt leads the Byways of Iowa Foundation, which has installed 17 public artworks across the state since 2014.

So now, visitors can make music in a sound park in Belle Plaine. Or reflect on a Native American proverb on a sculpture in Guthrie Center. Or picnic in Maquoketa under an elaborate wooden shelter designed by an architect who grew up in town and now builds high-tech projects in China and Saudi Arabia.

Each artwork started with a public brainstorming session, when locals suggested themes they wanted the artwork to represent—the things that made their towns unique.

"In Guttenberg, they knew right off: They wanted a fish," says Mallory Hanson, who works for Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development. Wish granted: A giant metal walleye now shines near the riverbank, with a local map hidden among its scales.

In Anamosa, where the painter Grant Wood was born, an artist sculpted a huge Gothic window frame, like the one in Wood’s "American Gothic," and filled it with rolling landscapes made from old motorcycle parts, a nod to the town’s National Motorcycle Museum. In Winterset, an artist sculpted a book-shaped sculpture that honors George Stout, the local man who rescued artwork from the Nazis during World War II and inspired the 2014 movie "Monuments Men."

The projects were funded with a mix of local support plus grants from additional partners, including Casey’s General Stores and the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

The artist Cara Briggs Farmer of Marion landed four of the commissions and loved getting to know each community. "Everybody needs to hop in their cars and go on a sculpture tour," she says. "It’s such a cool thing for our state."
Sue M. Wilson Brown is included in "Toward a Universal Sufferage," a traveling exhibit that spotlights the contributions of Black women during the suffragist movement. Photo: Iowa Department of Civil Rights


This year marks a century since women earned the right to vote under the United States Constitution. While we celebrate the suffragists' accomplishments, the contributions of Black women in the movement have largely been underrepresented, particularly in Iowa. A new traveling exhibition, "Toward a Universal Suffrage," which is traveling statewide in 2020 and 2021, aims to change that.

The exhibition will celebrate Iowa women like Sue M. Wilson Brown, who graduated from Oskaloosa High School and later moved to Des Moines in the early 20th century. Brown dedicated her life to improving the status of the Black community on both a state and national level, such as creating several clubs that participated in the suffrage movement, including the Intellectual Improvement Club, Iowa Colored Women and the Des Moines League of Colored Women Voters. She served as a charter member of the Central Association of Colored Women and the First Interracial Commission on Civil Rights. Brown was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1995.

Gertrude Rush, the first Black woman lawyer in Iowa, is also showcased in the exhibit. An active member of the suffragists and civil rights movements, Rush also helped launch the National Bar Association in 1925. She served as a role model for young Black women seeking professional careers.

"Toward a Universal Suffrage" is a collaboration of the Iowa Department of Human Rights Office on the Status of Women, the Central Iowa Community Museum and the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University.

The exhibition is currently at the State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines through Aug. 2. You can find the rest of the schedule here.
Craig Verm performs the title role in "Billy Budd," which takes place on a British naval ship.
Photo: Des Moines Metro Opera


If you missed Des Moines Metro Opera's production of "Billy Budd" in 2017, you'll have another chance to catch the stunning performance this Sunday, July 12, at 2 p.m., when Iowa PBS will broadcast the show. You can also watch it online on Facebook, YouTube or

This dramatic production by Benjamin Britten is based on the novel by Herman Melville. Set in 1797 on a British naval ship, the opera has an all-male cast and chronicles the persecution and destruction of a young sailor. Craig Verm (pictured above) stars in the title role with a cast of more than 50 performers, plus the boys’ choir from Heartland Youth Chorus.

Presenting "Billy Budd" is a "dream come true for me," Michel Egel, DMMO's artistic and general director, told dsm magazine in 2017. DMMO was the first midsized company in the United States to stage the production.

"This is an iconic opera in our industry that is rarely performed and then usually only in the world’s largest opera houses," Egel said  "It has never been produced by a company of our size in America," a fact that  gained DMMO industry recognition throughout the country.
To read a review of the performance, click here. To learn more about DMMO's Virtual Festival, visit the organization's website.
The Trout Run Trail in Decorah runs past local businesses and beautiful northwest Iowa rivers. Photo: Travel Decorah


Writer: Mike Klein

I’ve been bicycling in Iowa for more than 30 years, so naming my favorite trail in any given region of the state is like asking me to name my favorite child. I love them all in their own ways. But if I had to choose a few of them, one of them would be the Trout Run Trail in Decorah.

One thing I love about this trail: You can start at a popular ice cream shop and end there. The 11-mile loop requires no repeated experiences, except for that ice cream at Whippy Dip.

The popular paved trail, completed in 2012, is yet another highlight in a town brimming with recreation, such as mountain biking, hiking and paddling one of the Midwest’s premier streams, the Upper Iowa.

You’ll ride along that river in town, but that’s just the start of the stunning variety you’ll find in a relatively short distance. It’s been so popular, a University of Iowa study estimates it pumped $1.6 million to $2.4 million into the economy.

I headed along the north end of downtown overlooking the river, then followed its bend along the edge of town, through parks, before entering the countryside views.

This is where the fun starts, flanking the creek and heading out to another major tourist draw: the Decorah eagles’ nest that overlooks the fish hatchery about five miles into the trip. The famous bald eagles are known around the world because a camera is mounted near the nest and broadcasts live online.

Rest up, because the next five miles are a fun challenge: steep hills through pasturelands that have you rolling up and down switchbacks.

You get the whole story of the area right here—agriculture, trout streams, the river and its bluffs. Once you hit the home stretch rolling into town, that ice cream reward is within a mile.

Read about two more of Kilen's favorite Iowa trails in this piece in ia magazine.
Tune in to cooking demonstrations from Port of Des Moines chefs at our virtual ia magazine unveiling.


It's almost time to unveil our annual ia magazine. To celebrate the new issue, we are hosting a virtual event featuring cooking demonstrations from Port of Des Moines chefs, a tour of the River Center event venue in downtown Des Moines and an exclusive first look at the publication.

You'll also have the chance to mingle with other arts, culture and food enthusiasts from around the state. The event, which starts at noon on July 28, is free to attend; all you have to do is sign up at this Zoom link. We hope to see you there!
The Bohemian Hotel, previously known as the Highlander Hotel, has opened in Iowa City with a hippie vibe and plenty of amenities. Photo: the Bohemian Hotel


The Bohemian Hotel in Iowa has reopened after a six-month renovation with a design that pays homage to the original 1967 Highlander Hotel and Supper Club. But it also has all the modern resort amenities today's guests have learned to expect.

"[The hotel is] unlike all of the chains that have the same decor and vibe," Angela Harrington, owner and operator of the Bohemian Hotel, said in a statement. "Every aspect of this property is different and unique to the Bohemian Hotel in Iowa City."

Included in restoration efforts was the return of the pool bar, which was taken out in a mid-'80s renovation, and the preservation of the wall adorned with signatures of the hotel's famous guests, such as baseball player Micky Mantle and singer-songwriter Joan Baez. The new Highlander Lounge serves classic cocktails.

The property also has a gym with wall-to-wall glass sliding doors that open onto a new south-side patio, a courtyard with sun loungers, a grand fire ring, bocce ball and other games, and more.

The Bohemian Hotel is located at 2525 Highlander Place. To learn more, visit or call 319-354-2000.

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