ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Cedar Falls artist Jennifer Bates painted 1,500 recycled water bottles for an installation in "Flow: Journey Through the Mississippi River Watershed" at the Dubuque Museum of Art.

By Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Maybe you’ve seen the hashtag #MuseumBouquet that sprouted online and spread like wildflowers across social media. Museums across the world are sending each other paintings, photos and other artistic renderings of flowersbright spots amid the coronavirus gloom.

The idea sprouted a few weeks ago between two curators on the East Coast, but Iowa museums have been stepping up their social game, too, even while their physical galleries are closed. From Sioux City to Muscatine, museum teams are rolling out virtual tours, online photo albums and video demonstrations so you can visit a #MuseumFromHome.

The Des Moines Art Center
unveiled a series of 360-degree videos that allow you to virtually stroll through the galleries to see plenty of the permanent collection, plus the current show by the Scottish sculptor Karla Black, who makes things out of crumpled paper, glitter, powdered paint, cosmetics and hand sanitizer (a timely coincidence).

Iowa State University Museums
organized an "Art Madness" bracket to show off its Art on Campus collectionone of the biggest in the countryand invited folks to vote online for their favorites. The champion: Christian Petersen’s "Gentle Doctor," the sculpture of a man cradling an ailing puppy, on display at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

The Dubuque Museum of Art
has been encouraging people to wear or display a color of the week and recently posted photos of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald building and MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center lit up in blue. The museum’s education staffand their counterparts at the Sioux City Art Center, Muscatine Art Center and Iowa Children’s Museum in Coralvillehave been pumping out art activities for families cooped up at home.

And if you’re free tonight, pour yourself a glass of wine, cut up some cheese cubes and join a virtual reception. From 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Facebook Live, you can tour the Polk County Heritage Gallery and hear from some of the participating artists in "20 Artists, 20 Parks," a new exhibition the Arts Council organized with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University to celebrate the centennial of Iowa’s state parks in 2020. And then, maybe this weekend, why not explore the parks in person? They’re still wide open.
Cookbooks reflect their times and their target markets, including this effort to reach midcentury teens.


By Laurel Lund

It began with a phone call.

In 1992, Iowa State University professor Diana Shonrock received a call from Robert F. Smith of What Cheer. With no prior premise, he simply said, "I have 12,000 cookbooks. Want ’em?"

Intrigued, Shonrock learned that the retired U.S. Army cook had been collecting recipes and cookbooks for over 20 years, from 1946 until 1968, adding two cookbooks he authored himself. With that and other gifts, including both cookbooks and cooking ephemera, the ISU library became home to an extraordinary cookbook collection. Today the Iowa Cookbook Collection consists of over 3,000 books dating back to the 1800s, most from Iowa.

All provide a mirror reflecting the state’s societal and cultural history through preserving and documenting our culinary and ethnic heritage. For example, Grandmother’s cherry pie crust was so tender and flaky because she used lard rather than today’s lower-cal shortenings.

"The ISU library has one of the better cookbook collections in the country," says Edward Goedeken, collection coordinator. "And much of that treasure trove is due to the diligence and hard work of professor Shonrock."

Although Shonrock retired eight years ago, "I’m hanging on to this," she says. "I love what I do."

To learn more about the collection, click here. And if you have cookbooks or family recipe books you’d like to donate to the Iowa Cookbook Collection, contact Diana Shonrock at

The Art Church in Malvern is one of the inspiring sites you can visit online for an Iowa Culture Coffee Break.


Need a break? You’re in luck.

You can take an #IowaCultureCoffeeBreak at 3 p.m. every weekday on Facebook at @IowaCulture, where you’ll find live performances, virtual museum tours and other bits of inspiration from across the state. The series launched a few weeks ago and has already featured a live tour of the Art Church in Malvern (pictured), an old church that artist Zack Jones turned into an art studio, plus a mix of mini-concerts from Des Moines Metro Opera, a pipe organ in Clermont, and the carillon at the top of the Iowa State University Campanile. Singer-songwriter Chad Elliott played a few tunes from Lamoni the day before the Red Cedar Chamber Music duo tuned in from their home in Iowa City, for their first performance without an in-person audience.

"It was very different," says violinist Miera Kim, who performs with her husband, cellist Carey Bostian. "We’re used to performing in very intimate spaces, where people are sitting as close as four feet away, but people left comments and likes, so the feedback was positive."

If you know other Iowa artists or musicians who should star in an #IowaCultureCoffeeBreak, send an email to Or better yet, leave a comment on the next post. They’re taking requests.

The rugged terrain in the northeast corner of Iowa is like nowhere else in the state.


With so many staying home to avoid the coronavirus, now is a great time to make travel plans for later in the year. We can't think of a better place to start than picturesque northeast Iowa.

Living in Iowa without spending time on or around the Mississippi would be a little like living in Colorado and ignoring the Rockies. Forming the entirety of Iowa’s eastern border, the river is a key landmark: part natural wonder, part historical icon and part workaday waterway all rolled into one ever-flowing, always-fascinating attraction.

As Iowa’s first and oldest European-settled city, Dubuque offers a great place to soak in a sense of the river’s history and majesty. No matter what you do or where you go in and around the city, the river—or its legacy—is nearly always present in some way.

Join us on a weekend visit to this fascinating city and region through story "Take Me to the River: 36 Hours in Dubuque," from the current issue of ia magazine.

In Elkader, Adam Pollack has more than a few bright ideas, designing artistic light fixtures.


Suspended over a spa in in Four Seasons Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, a light fixture hovers like a cloud, 60 feet long and 15 feet wide. In a rec center on the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge is a 100-foot-long lighting installation called "River."

Both were designed and created at Fire Farm, a custom lighting company in Elkader, a town of 1,200 people in northeast Iowa. Founder Adam Pollack says he tries to create lighting that is functional but also artistic and sculptural. "Lighting should help people connect to the environment," Pollack says. "It should tell the story of what's going on in that space."

Massive projects can run hundreds of thousands of dollars, but much of the company's work is priced between $1,000 and $15,000.

Before starting Fire Farm, Pollack developed theater stage lighting and illusions with light in the San Francisco area. He established Fire Farm in Oakland in 1991 and moved the company to Elkader in 2001 to be near his wife's family.

"I feel very blessed," Pollack says. "I have a talented team and this playground I get to explore in every day."
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