ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
We surely would welcome this to our Thanksgiving table: Iowa master chef Aaron Holt's wild berry crisp topped with vanilla bean ice cream.


As we charge ahead in our second year of the ia newsletter, which we launched in early 2020, we want to take a moment and, in the spirit of the holiday, thank all of you—our readers. We are grateful for the thousands of you who read our newsletter every other week, soaking up all Iowa has to offer in arts, culture, food and more. We appreciate you all coming along on the journey with us. Happy Thanksgiving!
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Celebrate Nordic culture Nov. 4 at Decorah's Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School. The annual event, which runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., features live music, shopping and ... goats. Photo: Vesterheim  


Friluftsliv. While it sounds like a new Ikea line, it’s actually the concept of open-air living so popular in Scandinavia. And this year’s Norwegian Christmas Celebration is all about friluftsliv, with special activities held outside at Heritage Park in Decorah. The event takes place Dec. 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sip hot cocoa and try Scandinavian s'mores around the fire, listen to area musicians and learn about juletrefest (a Norwegian Christmas tree party of singing around a decorated tree), pet goats, and study snowshoes and sparks, the popular Norwegian kick sleds.

Indoor crafting activities include making heart baskets and other fiber crafts.

And part of the appeal of the Vesterheim, especially for holiday giving, is the excellent museum shop, which offers great gifts for foodies, Norwegian-themed T-shirts and socks, and sweaters and other woolen goods.
Storm Large will perform in Iowa City on Dec. 4. Photo: Hancher Auditorium


The University of Iowa's Hancher Auditorium has a trio of events planned for December. Find the entire calendar online.

Storm Large (7:30 p.m. Dec. 4): A contestant on TV shows "America's Got Talent" and "Rockstar Supernova," Storm Large will perform for the third time on the Hancher Auditorium stage, singing a selection of her favorite holiday songs. Tickets start at $25 for adults.

Straight No Chaser (7:30 p.m., Dec. 9): This all-male a cappella group will stop in Iowa City as a part of its national holiday tour. They'll perform a selection of holiday hit songs. Tickets start at $50 for adults.

Brunch with Santa (Dec. 11 and 12): A family-friendly event where you can enjoy brunch and have the children meet Santa Claus. Tickets start at $35 for adults.
Downtown Pella dresses up in its Christmas finest this time of year. Attractions include the new outdoor Dutch Christmas Market (Dec. 2-4) and a holiday home tour. Plus, there's great shopping downtown. Photo: Visit Pella


Steel drum concerts at Central College, holiday home tours, the arrival of Sinterklaas, and of course shopping for those famous Dutch letters at Jaarsma Bakery are well-rooted traditions during the Christmas season in Pella.

But the town of about 10,000 is celebrating a new tradition this year, Kerstmarkt—Pella’s Dutch Christmas market.
Inspired by outdoor markets in the Netherlands, the event (Dec. 2-4 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.) showcases food such as decorated cookies and gouda from Frisian Farms cheese, plus crafts and home decor. It’s being held at Molengracht Plaza.

While in town, be sure to check out the other activities, including the 58th annual holiday tour of homes, festival of trees, and downtown shopping.

Families won’t want to miss “Elf the Musical,” held Dec. 3 at Pella Community Center’s Kuyper Theater. Go online for a complete list of all the action.
The Dirty Rotten Scoundrels will perform at the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs' Celebrate Iowa Gala.
Photo: Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Face it: Zoom has its limits. That’s why the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs is very, very excited to return to an in-person format for this year’s Celebrate Iowa Gala, where guests can see, hear and taste so many things from across the state.

The 10th annual event is set for Dec. 10 at the historic Scottish Rite Consistory in Des Moines, where guests can listen to live music from the Awful Purdies, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Phineas Pope. They can see live landscape painting by Jorge Chavez Colorado, an exhibit of new artwork inspired by Iowa history, and a pop-up display about Iowa’s 175th anniversary.

From the groaning smorgasbord, folks can feast on Fareway ham balls, La Quercia charcuterie, Maytag blue cheese, Jaarsma Dutch letters, Piper’s chocolate caramels, homemade kolaches from none other than the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library—and so much more.

Thirsty? Try the Anderson Erickson eggnog, BLK & Bold coffee, the “Iowa 175” cocktail from the Mississippi River Distilling Co. or the “1846 Corn Lager,” made with old-fashioned brewing techniques at Court Avenue Brewing Co.

Proceeds from the gala’s tickets and sponsorships support statewide programs from the State Historical Society of Iowa, which has been preserving and sharing Iowa history since 1857.
Nook & Nest in Ames has all kinds of carefully curated home decor items.


This story appears in our 2022 ia magazine issue, which you can read in full here.

Writer: Carole Gieseke

Historic downtown Ames is known for some of its quintessential indie shops—Cook’s Emporium, the Octagon Center for the Arts, Wheatsfield Grocery—but there’s a new crop of local stores worth exploring, particularly since it's now peak holiday shopping season.

Anchoring the 300 block is Nook & Nest, a carefully curated collection of home decor, tableware, bedding, stationery and other home and lifestyle products. Owner Mindy Bergstrom opened the store in 2019 with a goal of providing a cozy, welcoming shopping experience.

Take a quick glance around the main space and you’ll find modern furniture, comfy pillows, colorful vases, thoughtfully chosen kitchen textiles and dishes, floral pottery, handcrafted jewelry, clothing items, and gifts for baby. In the next room—a recent expansion—there’s a generous selection of whimsical greeting cards, journals, printed writing paper and notebooks from brands such as Kate Spade, plus tote bags, mugs, pens, games and more.

Read the rest of the story here.
Donna Reed, a Denison native, starred in the holiday classic "It's a Wonderful Life." Photo: RKO Radio Pictures


Writer: Jeff Morgan
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

For many folks, the holidays just aren’t the holidays without “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The movie that stars Denison native Donna Reed is a Yuletide classic

But now, 75 years after its premiere, it’s also a window into a bygone era.

Leo Landis from the State Historical Society of Iowa and Christopher Wilson from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will lead an online presentation called “Hollywood & Iowa: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life'” at noon Dec. 9. They’ll examine some of the cultural themes and historical references that are hidden in the story of old George Bailey and his brush with Clarence the angel.

“The movie is set in 1945, just after World War II,” Wilson says. So “when Clarence is giving a history lesson to George, the audience is getting a history lesson, too, from 1919 to 1945.”

That includes the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu, race relations, Prohibition, the Great Depression and other touchstones that modern-day viewers might miss.

The online presentation is part of the state historical society’s ongoing Iowa History 101 series, which explores various topics from Iowa's past.  
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