ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Choptalk talks with Iowa pig farmers who are paying it forward in their communities!

Meet the Lundells fire fighters, coaches, animal caretakers! Two generations of pig farmers that aren't just raising pigs, but also growing Iowa communities.

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Picturesque Amana Colonies on a snowy day. Photo: Amana Colonies


As the year comes to a close, we at ia want to wish you a happy holiday and a cheery start to 2022. Our gift to you for 2022 is even more great content focused on food and dining, arts and culture, home and garden, and top outdoor spots in the state. Thank you for supporting ia, and we hope you and your family enjoy the holiday week.
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Winner of the 16th season of American Idol (2017-18), Maddie Poppe of Clarksville and the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony will perform New Year's Eve at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center.


The Cedar Valley’s own American Idol winner, Maddie Poppe, is coming home for a New Year’s concert in Cedar Falls. Accompanied by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony, Poppe will perform some of her new arrangements as well as winter seasonal favorites. After the concert, enjoy dessert, Champagne and a countdown to midnight.

The event, to be held at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the University of Northern Iowa campus, starts at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $40.75 to $80.75 for adults, $11.75 for college students and $6.75 for youths. Find tickets here.

Iowa City artist Jason Snell led an effort to install interactive lights in a local alley. Photo: Jason Smith


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Well, we made it: The days are getting longer.

But each night when the sun disappears, an interactive art installation lights up an alley in downtown Iowa City. A team of local artists recently teamed up with Slingshot Architecture to install an array of sensors that track changes in motion, temperature and daylight in the narrow shortcut through the block framed by Dubuque, Linn and Washington streets and Iowa Avenue. The sensors translate all that data into a spectacle of colored light.

Pedestrians can watch it from a distance, or jump right in.

“As soon as you step into the alley, it detects your presence, and the lights will come over and greet you and stay with you as you walk through,” the project’s lead artist, Jason Snell, explains in a fascinating online video.

Snell received an Iowa Arts Council grant to support the project, called “Sprites,” which premiered with a short performance in October and attracted more than 32,000 visitors in its first six weeks. Snell figures he contributed 350 hours to the project, but “that first 10 minutes of the premiere made it totally worth it,” he says. “It was just completely magical.”
Theater artist and educator Darrell Johnston debuts his new musical ode to Iowa, "State Song," Jan. 5 and 6 at Graceland University's Carrol Hall in Lamoni.


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Quick: Can you sing Iowa’s official state song?

If you can’t, you’re not alone. It’s not very well known.

“The Song of Iowa” is set to the tune of “O Tannenbaum” (“Oh, Christmas Tree”) and it’s a little dreary, at least if you ask Darrell Johnston. So he wrote a new version, as part of a whole new musical comedy. Free staged readings of “State Song” are set for 6 p.m. Jan. 5 and 6 and 2 p.m. Jan. 7 at Graceland University’s Carrol Hall in Lamoni.

Johnston grew up nearby in Leon and had been working nationwide as a theater artist and educator when the pandemic wiped out his calendar. So he switched gears and enrolled in law school in the Twin Cities.

He wrote the musical as a creative outlet and imagined how the 1911 Iowa Legislature might have chosen to adopt a zippier state song instead of the one they actually did. Johnston landed a $2,500 American Rescue Plan grant from the Iowa Arts Council to pay musicians and preview the show in Lamoni before it transfers Jan. 13-15 to New York, where he’s rented the Manhattan Theatre Club studio to show it off to potential investors.

“If nothing else,” he says, “I hope ‘State Song’ will encourage Iowans to lead with our best foot forward.”
Iowa-made cheeses are perfect stars on your holiday table. Photo: Dera Burreson. Stylist: Sammy Mila.


Writer: Karla Walsh

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

Wisconsin probably pops to mind as destination No. 1 when you think cheese. But did you know Iowa produced 3.3 million pounds of cheese in 2019, more than a pound a person? And each ounce is among the most delicious you’ll find across the country.

“The dark, rich soils of Iowa help us produce lush forages and cheeses that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world. What you taste in a cheese goes all the way back to the beginning,” says Ranae Dietzel, co-owner and master cheese-ager of Lost Lake Farms in Jewell.

That’s because the cows or goats producing the milk used in Iowa cheeses feast on nutrient-rich fare, resulting in top-notch fromage. C.J. Bienert, owner of the Cheese Shop and Cheese Bar in Des Moines, echoes Dietzel and gives you permission to declare a cheese board “dinner.”

“We’re farming on compost from centuries of prairie and we grow the best of anything we try to make,” Bienert says. “Cheese is a complete food minus fiber and vitamin C. Add an apple and you have a pretty terrific meal.”

Read the rest of the story here.
Enjoy a quiet day at Big Creek State Park near Polk City on a First Day Hike. Photo: Brian Button, Iowa DNR


Looking for more fitness and ways to get out next year? Plan on a strong start with a First Day Hike at an Iowa park.

Twenty parks throughout the state, including popular spots Backbone (Strawberry Point), Ledges (Madrid) and Springbrook (Guthrie Center) state parks, offer guided hikes. Times vary and some include snacks and beverages to enjoy after the trek.

Or embark on your own private hike through one of the 30 other participating parks as part of the First Day Hike Challenge. “First Day Hikes are a popular tradition in state parks, and the Park Passport is a great way for people to enjoy winter hikes,” said Sherry Arntzen, chief of the Iowa DNR’s Parks, Forests and Preserves Bureau.

With the challenge, visitors can check into more than 50 participating state parks and forests on the Park Passport from Dec. 31 through Jan. 2. Every park check-in qualifies for a chance to win a two-night stay at a two-bedroom cabin at Lake Darling State Park, near Brighton.

Find a list of guided hikes here. Download the free passport to your mobile device here.
The Des Moines Symphony hosts Broadway star Michael Cavanaugh for a New Year's Eve concert filled with Elton John hits. The show starts at 8 p.m.  


Still making plans for New Year's? Downtown Des Moines might just be the best spot in the state for a complete night of dining and drinks, live entertainment, and upscale stays. Here are our recommendations for an experience-filled end to 2021.

1. Plan on an overnight. Several new-on-the-scenes downtown hotels put you within an easy walk to restaurants, clubs and more. Our pick is the Surety Hotel, which still has rooms available for New Year's. If you want to stay in for the night, enjoy a cocktail before dinner at Mulberry Street Tavern (reservations are a must).

2. Dine in style. Downtown and the surrounding areas offer options to suit any palate. Splash Seafood Bar and Grill is our favorite for seafood; Alba consistently delivers with upscale cuisine; RoCA specializes in shared plates; and the New Northwestern is the new East Village hot spot for drinks and apps.

3. Sing along to the symphony. Grammy- and Tony-nominated Broadway star Michael Cavanaugh belts out Elton John’s classic hits and rock favorites with backup from the Des Moines Symphony. The concert starts at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $40 to $95 and are available here.
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