Category Archives: arts festival

Hot off the Press: story in Minneapolis Star Tribune on Des Moines’ public art.

Here’s a story I wrote (and yes, that’s my son and son-in-law in the photo)…

Midwest Traveler: Des Moines is Iowa’s capital of public art

Des Moines will be busy during next weekend’s annual Arts Festival.

By Betsy Rubiner Special to the Star Tribune


JUNE 14, 2018 — 6:25PM

New York artist Keith Haring’s “Untitled (Three Dancing Figures, version C)” is also found in the Des Moines sculpture park.

“A lot of it, I don’t recognize,” said my 26-year-old son, who now lives in Minneapolis, as we walked around his hometown of Des Moines. “Downtown looks pretty good!”

Some of the credit for that goes to public art enthusiasts, who have not only dotted downtown Des Moines with sculpture, installations and murals but have created an Art Route that helps visitors and locals find 87 artworks. A free app also provides the locations, plus details about artists including Claes Oldenberg, Louise Bourgeois, Maya Lin and Joel Shapiro.

The downtown Art Route’s western portion — dominated by the popular John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park — will be particularly busy June 22-24, when it is the site of the Des Moines Arts Festival, which includes a juried exhibition.


On a sleepier spring weekend, my husband and I explored the 6.6-mile Art Route DSM ( with visiting millennials — our son, as well as our daughter and her husband, who live in Chicago.


As a Des Moines transplant, I’ve long admired the art around town. But recently, I started noticing green dots painted on sidewalks and painted street intersections, which, I learned, denote the art route.

On the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation’s website (, I found out that the route stretches primarily around three west-east thoroughfares: Grand Avenue, Locust Street and Walnut Street. (I also learned that a Canadian street artist painted the street intersections/“installations.”)


Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s “Panoramic Awareness Pavilion,” at left, is a centerpiece of Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines.


Much of the art locations/green dots are west of the Des Moines River near the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, where more than two dozen contemporary sculptures sit on an undulating 4.4-acre grassy site divided by curving paths. Some of the route’s artwork is located along the river or east of it, in the burgeoning East Village neighborhood and by the gold-domed State Capitol.

Because the route does not have a designated start or end (or numbered stops), I arrived with a rough DIY plan and two helpful tools from the public art foundation website — a printout of the route map and the Public Art App, which I downloaded on my phone.

The Pappajohn Sculpture Park proved a logical starting point, thanks to its concentration of art. Opened in 2009, the park is an old favorite by now, so we zeroed in on recent additions including Japanese sculptor Yayoi Kusama’s 8-foot-high “Pumpkin Large” and Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s rainbow-mirrored “Panoramic Awareness Pavilion.”

While visiting a signature park piece — Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa’s “Nomade,” a 27-foot-tall hollow human form made of a latticework of white steel letters — I stumped the Chicagoans by asking them to guess which sculpture Plensa designed in their city’s Millennium Park. (The surprising answer: “Crown Fountain,” the video sculpture that includes two 50-foot glass towers displaying Chicago residents’ faces, whose mouths spout water.)

As we admired New York graffiti artist Keith Haring’s untitled sculpture of three dancing figures, we used another helpful tool — a free audio podcast walking tour from the Des Moines Art Center. Following posted instructions, we dialed a number on my phone, entered the number on a sign in front of the Haring sculpture and listened to an erudite recording. (An engaging family guide is also available on the Art Center website, des­

New architecture

Before leaving the park, we gazed up at the dramatic building under construction nearby, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The five-story Krause Gateway Center — the Kum & Go convenience store chain’s new headquarters — is already a presence, with its massive scale and sculptural look including high glass walls separated by four overhanging white horizontal planes.

“The Piano” is among several architectural gems we passed. Others include the 2006 public library, clad in daylight-permeable copper windows and designed by British architect David Chipperfield; and the recently renovated Catholic Pastoral Center, a 1962 steel and glass modernist building by Mies van der Rohe. Another highlight: two cool contemporary pedestrian bridges over the river — the 2010 Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, which arches over a dam, and the Red Bridge, an 1891 rail bridge that got a modern makeover in 2005.

Heading northeast, we stopped at the familiar and impressive sculpture park beside the modernist American Republic Insurance building. But we also spotted unfamiliar work, including a colorful mural painted on the back of a building we have driven past for years.

Some of the art turned out to be inside buildings closed on a Sunday, but still visible. We peeked through glass to see Maya Lin’s installation “A Shift in the Stream” inside the Principal Corporate 4 building lobby and Sol Lewitt’s colorful painting “Whirls and Twirls” inside the Pappajohn Education Center.

We also realized that the route is long — especially on foot — so we did only a portion before stopping for a drink in the East Village. Next time, we may try the route via bike.

Where to eat and sleep

West of the river, casual drink and dining options include Exile Brewing Co.(1-515-883-2337; and Americana Restaurant (1-515-283-1212; East-of-the-river options include the Republic on Grand (1-515-518-6070; therepublic atop the six-story AC Hotel (1-515-343-6026), with an open-air bar serving brew, bites and city views. Also convenient to the Art Route is the new Hilton Des Moines Downtown(1-515-241-1456).

More information

Greater Des Moines Convention & Visitors Bureau: 1-800-451-2625;

Betsy Rubiner, a Des Moines-based travel writer, writes the travel blog Take Betsy With You.



Leave a comment

Filed under arts festival, Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Favorites at the Des Moines Arts Festival – both artists in Oregon!


The quality of the crafts at the Des Moines Arts Festival continues to be very high – shame about the wet weather last weekend. But we were among the visitors walking through the mist and drizzle on Sunday afternoon.  We were particularly taken by the work of two craft artists from Oregon – gorgeous blown glass by Joshua Rodine  (Phoenix, Oregon – which I’m told is between Medford and Ashland, both places we visited during our trip there a few years ago) and gorgeous woven rugs by Kimberly Morris  of Wallowa, a place I’ve wanted to visit since last November when I met someone in Seattle who lives there. Funny thing is the weaver didn’t know her friend the glass blower was in the show – just across the downtown sculpture garden – until I mentioned I’d just bought something from him!

Solar Vase #110

Leave a comment

Filed under arts festival, Des Moines, Oregon

Earth-shaking art with Artquake at the Firehouse, courtesy of the DSM Social Club

We will be out of town for this event but it sounds like fun – and a good way to get a look at the new headquarters of the Des Moines Social club in the way cool old Art Deco firehouse downtown. Artquake is June 27 “featuring an explosion of local art and music.” Better than an earthquake! More details below and on the…Des Moines Social Club website

Des Moines Social Club announces Artquake, June 27 at the Firehouse

DES MOINES (June 4, 2013) – Art. Music. Illumination. Party. The Des Moines Social Club (DMSC) is proud to present Artquake, a party featuring an explosion of local art and music at the Firehouse, on Thursday, June 27 from 6-10pm. For one night, DMSC will transform the courtyard of their new home at the Firehouse into an interactive gallery to illuminate the artists and musicians creating right here in Des Moines.

Artquake will feature performances by Satellite State, D*ckweed and Tires, plus installations and live art by Van Holmgren, Asphate Woodhavet (Maxilla Blue), Body by Svec, Rachel Buse, Joe Crimmings, Lucas Moser, and Mickey Davis. Attendees will also have the opportunity to interact and participate in light painting, screen printing, stenciling and painting a collaborative mural. An extravagant illuminated light art show will accompany the music performances, setting the stage of a truly unique experience.

About the Music

Tires will headline Artquake with their energetic, danceable electronic/instrumental rock. The band has consisted of Phillip Young on guitar and electronic sound manipulations and Jordan Mayland on drums and synthesizers since its formation in 2011. Chris Marshall joined the fray as a full time member in 2012, freeing the band to round out Tires’ massive wall of sound with more deliberate focus.

D*ckweed, a new Des Moines alt-country band, will make their debut performance at Artquake. This “supergroup” features a strong lineup of Des Moines talent including Bob Nastonavich, (Pavement), Patrick Tape Fleming (Poison Control Center, Gloom Balloon), Eric Moffitt (Wolves in the Attic, Mantis Pincers), and Trent Derby (Wolves in the Attic, Volcano Boys).

Satellite State, a rock group featuring local high school students that are most well known for playing in Poison Control Center, will round out the Artquake music lineup. With influences of Wavves, Quasi, and WAXEATER, Satellite State make a rock band what it is: distorted guitar and bass, lyrics about girl(s), dorky drunk fills, and hot men!

About the Art

Local artists will showcase the process of creation to Artquake featuring:

– Van Holmgren – live painting of 3D wood piece

– Asphate Woodhavet (Maxilla Blue) – live graffiti

– Joe Crimmings and Lucas Moser – interactive light painting installation

– Mickey Davis – interactive video installaion

– Emily Svec – live Body By Svec body painting

– More to be announced


Thursday, June 27

Doors: 6:00pm, Show: 7:00pm-10:00pm


$5 at the door

All Ages
About the Des Moines Social Club

The Des Moines Social Club is a non-profit organization that provides thought-provoking theater, classes for people of all ages, promotion for local artists, and a recruiting tool for the many businesses in Downtown Des Moines. The organization’s vision is to build premier arts institutions that foster social change and revitalize cities. The Des Moines Social Club formed in 2007 and is currently located at 400 Walnut Street. Learn more at

Leave a comment

Filed under arts festival, Des Moines

“Des Moines Detour” Cool Poster for June 28-30 Des Moines Arts Festival unveiled!

Des Moines Detour
by Will Armstrong

We are sorry to be missing the Des Moines Arts Festival, a juried show, which has gotten better and better over the past 20 years, with an ever expanding selection of terrific art by artists from across the country. But I may just have to get the new Arts Festival poster (the last one I got is at least 10 years old.) See:

Leave a comment

Filed under arts festival, Des Moines

Eric Fischl – in Saul Steinberg mode – bringing culture to the sticks??

One of my favorite painters,  Eric Fischl  has an idea that’s both interesting and a tad condescending.  He’s organized an “America: Now and Here,” truck museum that will travel into the hinterland (i.e. outside New York City, a la Saul Steinberg’s famous New York-centric map of the U.S.) and expose us here in flyover land to art…fine art, theater, poetry, film and literature.

Six 18-wheelers filed with paintings, poetry, plays, films, and music will travel the country for two years starting in fall 2012, stopping in towns and small cities, setting up like a mini-state fair.  The organizers promise to collaborate with local artists and institutions – so that’s good.

But oddly, previews (minus the trucks) will be held in Kansas City on May 6, Detroit in July and Chicago in October.  Strange choice.  These places, two of which I’ve lived in, one of which I visit often, aren’t exactly unexposed to art (my parents ran an art gallery in suburban Detroit for 30 years.)

My guess is the art bus will eventually land in Des Moines – and I’ll eagerly go to see what it offers (I may catch it first in Kansas City or Chicago.) But Des Moines too has a lively art scene, with a fantastic contemporary art museum designed by three very famous architects (Saarinen, Pei, and Meier) and an impressive new sculpture garden downtown that grows by the month (A Keith Haring piece was recently added and  12-foot sculpture “White Ghost”  by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara will arrive next fall. It was created for an exhibit at New York’s Asia Society and purchased for $60o,000 by the Des Moines Art Center, with money donated by the remarkable John and Mary Pappajohn, Des Moines philanthropists who donated 24-plus sculptures  – valued at some $40 million – and got the sculpture park going…)

The truck museum organizers say they’re not trying to impose their big-city art on us little folks – and simply want to make the “art world” less insular (and perhaps more politically secure);  and share big league art with communities that don’t usually get such exposure and presumably broaden their horizons.  Which I’m all for.  But why not frame this more as an “exchange” of art/ideas – perhaps acknowledging that art is created in places other than New York?

Playwright Marsha Norman was quoted by the Times as saying she saw the program as a way to provide people with ways to think about America other than those offered by the media and pop culture. Then came the inevitable reference to Iowa (although it could just as well have been Kansas or North Dakota, other states often used to represent the middle-of-nowhere.)

“As much as we love Brian Williams, I don’t think he can tell us in the same way as a painter or a poet what it really feels like to live in Iowa,” Norman said.  Again, huh? Is this a reference to the local artists that will participate or to the big-name artists who will create art on-site or en route? And by the way Marsha, you may want to catch the annual “Iowa artists” show at the Des Moines Art Center that opens June 3.

Leave a comment

Filed under arts festival, Chicago, Des Moines, Detroit, Kansas City, museum exhibit

Des Moines Arts Festival – pretty impressive

It was beastly hot and humid at the Des Moines Arts Festival last night but well worth the visit. The setting – bordering the new Pappajohn Sculpture Garden downtown -, the high quality of the art, the selection of food (from my daughter’s favorite Indian DM farmers market vendors  to my son’s favorite neighborhood bbq joint), the live music (including a band that played Who songs better than the real aging Who-sters did during a recent Super Bowl performance, according to one casual critic), and the easy flow of foot traffic, made for an impressive event. And to think it’s all free of charge. A few weeks ago we paid $7 a person to go to a Chicago art fair that didn’t even have much good art (although it did have killer brats).

Leave a comment

Filed under arts festival, Des Moines