Iowa’s creative environment is vibrant, inclusive and collaborative, providing endless opportunities for entertainment and inspiration.
Whether you’re gallery hopping in Des Moines, attending a reading in Iowa City, or dining at a James Beard Award-nominated restaurant in Cedar Rapids, when you talk to the people who bring Iowa’s arts and culture scene to life – the writers, chefs, artists, musicians, curators, performers and festival organizers – you’ll notice a theme emerge.
As leaders in their fields, Iowa’s creatives could live – and have lived – anywhere. But they choose to live in Iowa, dedicating their energy and talents to a collaborative and inspiring creative community, unlike any other.
“Artists talk about having enough space to do their thing,” says Michael Morain, communications manager, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. “And in Iowa, there’s physical space and figurative space. The pace of life is slow enough and the cost of living is low enough that there’s not the same pressure to produce as the cities on the coasts. Iowans are especially encouraging when someone has an idea – the artists who are making it here in Iowa really appreciate the community spirit.”
Andrea Wilson, founder of the Iowa Writers’ House and the Bicultural Iowa Writers’ Fellowship, agrees.
“Life here is an integrative creative endeavor where we cultivate what we wish to see in the world,” she says. “Iowa is a wonderful place to build and grow a creative career. The sky is within reach here.”
And whether you live in Iowa or are just visiting, you get to enjoy the fruits of their creative efforts.
Discover the Arts in Iowa
When it comes to visual arts, Iowa has plenty of options – from the Des Moines Art Center to the Figge Art Museum in Davenport to the Sioux City Art Center. The Des Moines Arts Festival hosts more than 200,000 attendees each year and features more than 170 international-exhibiting visual artists.
Any day of the year, visitors can check out – and pose with – more than 30 pieces of 3D art displayed at John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines, one of the most significant collections of outdoor sculptures in the U.S.
But the arts scene in Iowa encompasses much more than visual arts. The state attracts writers from around the world to attend the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City, which also holds the title of the first UNESCO City of Literature in the U.S. Musicians, poets and performers flock to the annual Mission Creek Festival to perform at the historic Englert Theatre.
Looking for music? You’ll find unique performance venues across the state, such as the Klopfenstein Amphitheater in Marion (with a giant oak leaf canopy over the stage), the RiverLoop Amphitheatre on the Cedar River in Waterloo or the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake (where Buddy Holly played his last show). Festivals like Country Thunder Iowa in Forest City and Hinterland Music Festival in Saint Charles bring international headliners and indie acts – plus thousands of music fans across all genres – to smaller communities.
Put a Fork in It
In Iowa, farm-to-table isn’t a passing trend; it’s a way of life. The state’s agricultural heritage means restaurants in big cities and small towns have easy access to fresh, local ingredients – and the bounty of homegrown meat and produce inspires chefs from around the world to settle here and push the envelope of creative cuisine.
Take, for example, James Beard Award nominee Andy Schumacher and his wife, Carrie, co-owners of Cobble Hill, an upscale eatery in Cedar Rapids. After graduating from the University of Iowa, Andy moved to New York City to attend the French Culinary Institute.
While living in NYC, the couple was inspired by the vibrant culinary culture and late nights spent enjoying food and wine under string lights in friends’ backyards and bustling side-street restaurants.
When they moved back to Iowa to raise a family, their vision for Cobble Hill was to approximate the magic of those NYC nights, focusing on community and local products.
Like so many of Iowa’s innovators, the Shumachers honed their skills and gleaned inspiration in the world’s best food city, then brought those experiences home to bring their dream to life in a welcoming, collaborative community. Their work has helped put Cedar Rapids on the map as an up-and-coming food city – just one of many food scenes across Iowa that are attracting, retaining and growing world-class chefs.
Beyond Big Cities
“The way Iowa developed, there’s a real community spirit and a lot of pride in small towns, especially,” says Morain. “We’re moving in the right direction by redefining, who is an artist and drawing a wider circle around the creative sector to include lots of different people who produce creative work that benefits us all.”
A perfect example: Legacy Learning Boone River Valley, an arts education collective in Webster City (population: 8,000) that offers workshops, classes and hands-on, creative activities in everything from woodworking to weaving to writing.
The bottom line: no matter where you are in Iowa, nor if you live here or are just visiting, the state’s creative community will inspire, delight and nurture your creative spirit.
“Iowa has a tradition of knowledge and education, an individual spirit of human capability, and a belief in cultivating what we sow,” Wilson says. “All of it makes for a rich soil to grow beautiful things.”
If you’d like to learn more about Iowa, check out the latest edition of This is Iowa.