ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Jump-start your holiday shopping while supporting Main Street Cedar Falls’ thriving local business scene. Shops on the walkable street offer a little of everything.


Writer: Beth Eslinger

We love the youthful, indie vibe of downtown Cedar Falls. Within just a few blocks, you’ll find boutiques with home decor, affordable fashion, jewelry, kitchen essentials, fitness gear, sweet and savory snacks, and much more. Plus, you can explore myriad dining options including Thai, crepes, burgers, flatbreads and local brews. Many restaurants are currently focused on takeout; several local favorites including Montage and Brass Tap currently have dine-in.

Here are a few of our top stops for a day trip:

Driftless Style: Shop for trendy home decor such as Moroccan rugs, decorative pillows, handmade serving trays and live plants. The store’s holiday open house runs Nov. 18-22 (enter to win a giveaway).

Hatchling & Hens: Celebrate your passion for the state at this small boutique, which features makers from Iowa and beyond. We like their graphic T-shirts, notecards, foodie kits (hello, everything bagel) and beauty products.

Lotus + Lou: Find just-for-fun ideas for the ladies and babies in your life, plus vintage and new home accessories for creating a warm winter look.

Miss Wonderful: Filled with vintage gems, this shop is a must-visit even if you’re not into retro style. We like the jewelry and accessories.

World’s Window: Global gifts inspire the name of this fair trade shop. Browse sustainable food gifts, holiday ornaments, olive wood bowls and servers, and boho jewelry.

For more information about visiting Cedar Falls, see this story from ia magazine.
John Richard has a garage full of documents, films and more about the Iowa Mountaineers. He's taking stock of them for an upcoming documentary.


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

For half a century, a club called the Iowa Mountaineers climbed some of the highest mountains in the world.

It sounds like the tallest of tales, but it’s trueand an Iowa City filmmaker has a garage full of journals, photos and film reels to prove it. John Richard received a Greenlight Grant earlier this year from Produce Iowa, the state film office, to chronicle the story’s ups and ups and ups and downs.

“Some of the legends you heard just seemed too big to be true,” he says. But “as soon as we opened up this garage and started looking around, it was pretty clear there was an amazing story here.”

The story begins in the early 1940s with a man named S. John Ebert, who worked at the University of Iowa’s radio station and spent summers hiking through the great outdoors. After he recruited his wife, Ede, and some buddies to join him, the group evolved into a university club and quickly attracted a huge following.

They skied in local parks and hiked through the Amana Colonies. They camped at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin. They climbed the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, where some of the craggy peaks now bear Iowan names: Mount Iowa, Mount Ebert, Mount Hancher and more. Mickey’s Spire honors an Osceola man named Mickey Thomas, who first scaled the peak in 1947.

The intrepid Iowans ventured to the Canadian Rockies, the Peruvian Andes and the Himalayas. Over the years, an estimated 76,000 club members summited some 1,300 mountains in 17 countries.

Whenever they returned, they presented elaborate slide shows and film screenings that drew big university crowds and inspired others to sign up for the next trip.

The Eberts’ three sons climbed, too, and eventually led the club until it disbanded around 1990. By the time Richard arrived at the university a decade later—when he roomed with Charlie Wittmack, the first Iowan to summit Mount Everest—few members remained.

But the legends lingered. When Richard heard about the stockpile of memorabilia a few years ago, he figured it was worth checking out. After all, he had directed photography for the award-winning 2017 documentary “Saving Brinton,” about a Washington, Iowa, man who found a long-lost stash of film reels from the turn of the 20th century.

“The stories of the past are super important to the present,” Richard says. “The Iowa Mountaineers present an incredible opportunity to explore a lot of the best things about our history.”

He also wants to document the enduring call of the wild, evenand especiallyfor Iowa flatlanders.

“What is it about sharing the outdoors that is so powerful?” he says. “There were 300 couples who met on an Iowa Mountaineers trip and then got married. Some of my best friends are people I climbed with 20 years ago.”

Garth Greenwell is fascinated with learning, picking up several languages and traveling abroad to various countries. Photo: Bill Adams


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

They say writers should write what they know. But Garth Greenwell is more interested in what he doesn’t know.

The Iowa City writer drew from a stint in Bulgaria to write his latest novel, “Cleanness,” about an American teacher’s search for love and sex in Sofia, the capital city.

“I love being abroad,” he says. “I love living in another language. To me, being an artist requires a sense of foreignness. Even if you’re writing about the place you were born, you have to find a way to see it as a stranger.”

Greenwell, who recently received a fellowship from the Iowa Arts Council, moved to Iowa City in 2013 to study at the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He had planned to stay just a couple of years but changed plans when he met Luis Munoz, a poet who leads the university’s graduate creative-writing program in Spanish. They fell in love and bought a house with big oak trees in the yard.

“I feel more settled in Iowa than I’ve felt since I left Kentucky at 16,” says the writer, now 42.

Greenwell learned Spanish so he could speak more freely with Munoz. He picked it up after Portuguese and Bulgarian, plus the German, Italian, French and Latin he studied as a vocal-music student at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and Eastman School of Music in upstate New York. He later turned his attention to poetry and enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Harvard but left during his third year to teach high school in Michigan and, eventually, Bulgaria.

These days, he speaks Spanish at home and with many of his friends in Iowa City, who come from all over the world.

“People who don’t live in Iowa often think of it as a very homogenous place,” he says, “but that’s not my experience, certainly not in Iowa City. The immigrant and refugee communities, the Black and queer communities—that diversity is so fundamental to what Iowa City means to me.”

That cultural mix differs from Greenwell’s childhood in Kentucky, where he was a self-described “queer kid in the pre-internet South.” He struggled in high school—even failed his freshman English class—before a choir teacher helped him focus on music.

“Looking back,” he says, “I feel extraordinarily lucky that someone crossed my path and gave me this gift of art.”

Many critics have linked Greenwell’s background in music and poetry with his ability to write finely tuned prose, especially about emotions that can be hard to explain. He structured the chapters of “Cleanness,” for example, like a song cycle—a classical form from Germany—and shaped its language in a way the novelist Yiyun Li praised for how it “captures the indefinableness of pain and intimacy, love and alienation, vulnerability and sustainability.” The New York Times called it “incandescent.”

Greenwell hopes to achieve that same level of nuance in his next novel, inspired by Kentucky’s LGBTQ history. He’s been researching this year, between the classes he teaches remotely through Grinnell College.

“I’m discovering all these things about the place where I’m from,” he says.

So like any good writer, he’ll write what he knows—or, more precisely, what he never knew until now.
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In college, one of Shelley Buffalo’s friends would bring her cheese sandwiches for breakfast every morning to take the edge off her hunger and give her the energy to get out of bed. Buffalo is shown here at the Meskwaki community gardens.


When Shelley Buffalo was growing up in Tama County in the early 1970s, her family shopped at the local market and butcher shop. Her mother got eggs from a neighbor down the road.

“That was an end of an era for local foods,” she says. “The local economy has been completely gutted.”

The 1980s farm crisis put farms out of business across the country, many of which were consolidated into industrial-scale operations. Native American communities like the Meskwaki were hit particularly hard by the crisis, because they had relied on local, sustainable foods for thousands of years. Buffalo links this to the current “dismal” health disparities. According to the Indian Health Service, American Indians and Alaska Natives born today have a life expectancy 5.5 years lower than the U.S. average.

“Because of colonization, our ancestral foods have been replaced with a lot of heavily processed foods,” Buffalo, 52, explains. “And that has impacted our tribal health.”

Food insecurity in the Meskwaki Settlement has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The meatpacking industry suffered, and the tribe’s casino was closed for three months. Buffalo believes that one solution is food sovereignty, which she describes as “regenerating our ancestral relationships with the land and with food.”

Read the rest of the profiles in this piece, from our Iowa Stops Hunger special publication.

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

Sergei Krugakov, “Girl in Garden” (1959), at the Pearson Lakes Art Center in Okoboji.


Writer: Beth Eslinger

It’s hard to know where to look first at the Russian Impressionist art exhibit at Okoboji’s Pearson Lakes Art Center. With an array of color and stunning scenes on every wall, the 40-plus paintings take some time to process.

As with most Impressionist paintings, up-close views can be somewhat confusing, with messy brushstrokes and swaths of thick color layered upon each other in seemingly haphazard ways. But step back several feet and the images come to life, with dancers, old men and young girls staring you in the eyes with their expressive faces. Shadow and light play throughout the paintings, which were rarely seen outside of their home countries of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus until the past few decades.

Donated by Gerald “Bud” and Bev Pearson, the paintings reflect the history of art behind the Iron Curtain. Traditional Russian art in Soviet times focused on realism, celebrating the labor movement through art and literature. The works, inspired by the Impressionists of the 19th century, depict many of the tenets of the style, including humble subject matters, a focus on light and color, still lifes, and scenes of everyday life. While some of the paintings in the collection, which date from 1905 to 1976, highlight idyllic farm and work scenes, others present looser, more expressive images—ballerinas, musicians, academy students. The range of artists represented includes noted Ukrainian painters Viktor Mikhailovich Chaus and Georgi Georgievich Cherniavskie.

The Pearsons began collecting in the early 1990s, eventually donating the paintings to their namesake art center in 2007. The Pearson gallery, which the couple had constructed specifically to house the collection, beckons you to stay and study, with its soothing green walls, floors created from small blocks of richly grained wood, and soft ambient lighting.

Each summer, as an additional attraction, the art center opens its vault, featuring some of the Pearsons’ private collection of paintings from famed artists N.C. Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth, John Singer Sargant and Larry Rivers. Works by local makers also grace the gallery walls, and the gift shop features handmade goods such as jewelry, pottery, birdhouses and greeting cards.

For more information, visit
Downtown Iowa City restaurants can apply for grants to help add heaters or shelters on their outdoor patios. Photo: Think Iowa City.


Over the last several months of the pandemic, restaurants have made good use of their outdoor spaces to encourage social distancing and safe dining. But the colder temperatures are putting these eateries in a tough spot. How can they stay within important safety regulations while maintaining capacity throughout the winter? A local Iowa City grant program is helping restaurants keep their patio spaces usable throughout the winter.

The Iowa City Downtown District is providing grants up to $1,750 for eateries to install warmers, small shelters and more around their outdoor spaces. The organizers behind the grants believe restaurants can be creative with the funds to make fun experiences for patrons.

“We know the weather in Iowa really fluctuates in the fall and winter,”  Nancy Bird, executive director of the Iowa City Downtown District, said in a release. "So rather than pack it in, we want to encourage the use of patios for those crisp, sunny fall and winter days to build up the downtown winter experience, just as they are known to do in Canadian and European cities already.”

A similar program was launched in Des Moines by the Greater Des Moines Partnership, which was providing outdoor heaters to restaurants, although applications have now closed. You can find more information about that and a list here.

More information on the Iowa City grants can be found here.
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