ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Dutch tradition runs deep in Pella and Orange City. Put the cities on your to-visit list for next year—especially for Christmas gifts.


Writer: Beth Eslinger

While overseas getaways are still out of the question, two Iowa towns offer a taste of the Netherlands from the safety of a short drive. They’re especially engaging at Christmas when decked in Old World fashion.

The Dutch emigrated to Pella and Orange City through chain migration from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, bringing with them their religion and culture. That legacy lives large today, with both downtowns decked in architecture you’d see in Amsterdam, windmills for photo ops, and of course tasty food.

In Pella, Jaarsma Bakery and Vonder Ploeg Bakery sell all sorts of sweet treats, while Ulrich Meat Market is famous for its genuine Pella bologna (all three businesses sell online). Lunch at the Windmill Cafe includes hot meat sandwiches topped with mashed potatoes and gravy as well as a Pella burger complete with bologna, Swiss cheese and horseradish sauce.

And in Orange City, you can watch a butcher carving meat behind the counter at Woundstra Meat Market. The shop sells artisanal meats and Dutch candies and coffees. For a taste of Snert (green pea soup), head to Nederlander’s Grill.

And for a good winter read to learn more about the culture, check out Brian Beltman’s “Dutch Transplanters on the Grasslands and the Fruits of Chain Migration” ($9.99 on Kindle; $25 hard copy through Amazon). It won a best history book award this year from the State Historical Society of Iowa.
The Sioux City Orpheum is one of the 267 arts and culture organizations to receive assistance from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs as a part of the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Photo:


It’s been a tough year for Iowa artists, musicians, music venues, theaters and museums, but they got a $7 million boost on Tuesday from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. A total of 267 organizations and 152 artists across the state received one-time grants funded by the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

So when it’s safe to gather again—for concerts, plays, festivals and more—the people who present them will be in a better position to do so.

Iowa’s cultural sector relies on income from admissions and ticket sales and has lost nearly $50 million in revenue since the pandemic began, according to data provided by the grant applicants.

“It’s truly remarkable how arts and cultural organizations as well as individual artists have continued to create, innovate and keep us connected during the pandemic, in spite of the personal and financial challenges that many have faced,” says David Schmitz, who leads the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

A full list of Iowa Arts and Culture Recovery Program grant recipients in 118 Iowa communities is available online at
One of Iowa’s top tourist attractions, the Amana Colonies are particularly picturesque during the holidays.


Writer: Beth Eslinger

The Amana Colonies, a National Historic Landmark, are one of the longest-lived communal societies, but there are plenty of new attractions to check out on your next visit.

At the redesigned Amana Furniture & Clock Shop showroom, browse updated classics and trendy home decor. You’ll find leather and upholstered furniture as well as gifts. Also look for updated linen patterns to fit modern decor at Amana Woolen Mill nearby.

For an unexpected overnight, Hotel Millwright offers a boutique experience, with 65 rooms as well as communal spaces for eating and drinking. Think traditional Amana cuisine with a modern twist (pecan-crusted trout, jumbo scallops, bison burgers, etc. to enjoy with a craft brew or signature cocktail).

And exploring the seven colonies wouldn’t be complete with embracing a bit of history. In Main and South Amana, find a number of antique stores, including our favorite, Heritage Haus Antiques. Shop for trendy folk art, primitives, jewelry and the farmhouse classics found throughout the colonies.
Clear Lake is a favorite summer getaway, but the north-central town also offers winter enchantment.


With vacation rentals for every household size, the lakefront town might be the perfect place for a winter escape.

When the lake freezes over, it’s a hot spot for ice fishing. If you’ve never cut a hole through the ice to catch dinner, there’s an ice fishing school Feb. 18-21. And while the winter kite festival isn’t happening this year, you can hold a DIY event with your household bubble.

And for an experience at the iconic Surf Ballroom, book your tickets now to see Don McLean (you know the “American Pie” guy) Feb. 3 and a dance party on Feb. 4.
This four-piece farm set was made around 1980 and was part of the last production set for Lansing Slik-Toys products. These toys were especially popular in the 1950s. Photo: State Historical Society of Iowa


Writer: Jeff Morgan
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

This week, Iowans will unwrap all sorts of toys delivered by Santa or the elves at Amazon. But did you know there's a long history of toy manufacturing in Iowa?

“Some of the earliest toys found in Iowa were made in Europe, primarily in Germany,” says Leo Landis, state curator at the State Historical Museum of Iowa. “By the 1870s, however, Iowa entrepreneurs decided they could make a living by making toys themselves.”

The state’s first toy patent dates to 1874, when Henry Owen of Oskaloosa filed a patent for toy blocks. Other patents filed by Iowans included projectiles, heat-operated balloons, and cannons and targets.

“Teddy bears and push toys dominated the U.S. market from the late 1800s to the early 1900s,” Landis says. “Electric trains and building toys such as Lincoln Logs and Erector sets became popular items for boys in the 1920s and 1930s, and dolls and dollhouses were made for girls.”

By the 1940s, Iowa had established a successful toy-making industry, which included:

  • The Peter-Mar Toy Co. in Muscatine, which started making wooden toys using scrap lumber from the banks of the Mississippi River in 1941.

  • The Turner Button Co. in Lansing, which started making buttons in 1897 and expanded into miniature models of tractors, wagons and farm implements in 1942. By 1955, the company had renamed itself the Lansing Button Co. and was producing Lansing Slik-Toys.

  • The Ertl Co. of Dyersville. In 1945 founder Fred Ertl began making toy tractors at home by melting down defective aluminum aircraft pistons and pouring the liquid into sand molds. His company made its first die-cast John Deere Model “A” toy tractor in 1952. Today, you can visit Dyersville’s National Farm Toy Museum.

Maria Valdovinos, who teaches psychology at Drake University, says people can build powerful and pleasing memories when they associate objects with happy times, a mental process called “conditioned reinforcement.”

She recalls that her favorite childhood toy was a futuristic red telephone called a Merlin.

“It was from the '70s and '80s, and you could play different games on it by yourself or with others,” she says. “I can do so much more with the phone I have now, but if I saw [a Merlin] today, I might be tempted to buy it.”

“In the Waterloo community, there are certain areas where there are more liquor stores and fast food restaurants than there are grocery stores,” says DaQuan Campbell. A significant portion of low-income residents live a mile or more from the nearest supermarket. Photo: Emily Blobaum.


Growing up in east Waterloo, DaQuan Campbell disliked helping in his grandmother’s garden. “I never would have guessed that I would actually be trying to make a career out of this,” he says with a laugh.

As the Americorps VISTA member who manages the Greens to Go mobile produce stand, part of the University of Northern Iowa Local Food Program, the 26-year-old Campbell works to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in underserved areas. With help from two teenage staff members, Campbell harvests seasonal produce from local farms, which is then sold to customers at stands around the city. By providing free harvesting labor to the farmers, Greens to Go gets a discount, which they pass along to their customers, many of whom have trouble finding fresh produce.

Campbell also serves as market manager for the Waterloo Urban Farmers Market, where he has increased vendor participation and customer attendance. At home, he tends his own garden.

With a degree in business management from the University of Northern Iowa, Campbell dreams of becoming a full-fledged farm producer in the next few years, scaling up his operation to meet his neighborhood’s needs.

“We really need to be focused on trying to get produce to consumers who lack the access,” he says.

Read about additional Hunger Warriors, from the Iowa Stops Hunger special publication, here.

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

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