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Iowa Des Moines Arts Festival

late June – Des Moines, Iowa

The Des Moines Arts Festival is Iowa's only free, three-day celebration of the arts.

Taking place every June in the Western Gateway Park in downtown Des Moines, the Iowa Des Moines Arts Festival features everything from visual art, music and performing arts to various related activities.

The Some 175 juried artists selected from one of the most competitive jury processes in the country show and sell their original artwork. Alongside them are 24 Emerging Iowa Artists and the Nurturing a Student’s Vision K-12 Art Exhibition.

Local and national music acts are showcased on the Main Stage. Dance, comedy, theatre and musical theatre spotlight the Performing Arts Stage as well as strolling throughout the Festival site. And interactive arts related activities engage Festival guests in the arts experience with more than 35 arts-related activities including the award-winning mural project.

Rounding out the Festival is the Interrobang Film Festival, Sculpture Garden, Jazz & Wine Pavilion, Green Arts Program, Artist Demonstrations, and more than 20 eclectic food booths providing guests with an extraordinary community arts and culture Festival recognized by the International Festivals and Events Association and AmericanStyle Magazine as one of the best in the world.

The Des Moines Arts Festival traces its beginnings to 1958 when the Des Moines Art Center hosted its inaugural Art in the Park on the grounds of Des Moines’ fine art museum. In 1997, with the advent of revitalized downtown urban energy, momentum grew to reinvigorate the 40-year-old event. Armed with a new name, new leadership, and a new location, the 1998 Des Moines Arts Festival splashed onto the downtown bridges that span the Des Moines River, showcasing the nation’s premiere artists and creating an opportunity for people of all ages to embrace the arts.

The first Art in the Park attracted little more than a few hundred people. Now the Des Moines Arts Festival, established as the signature arts and culture event in Iowa, has an annual attendance of over 200,000 people.

Early in the Festival’s growth, it was determined that the participating artists would drive the focus of the show. As a juried art fair, the Des Moines Arts Festival developed strong relationships with recognized organizations like the National Association of Independent Artists and International Festivals and Events Association. These relationships assisted in developing the artist program, which is now one of the most respected in the nation.

The relationship with Des Moines Art Center continues today with a portion of the proceeds from the Festival supporting the city’s art center. Its leadership serves on the Festival’s board and their presence during the Festival contributes to its overall legitimacy.

In 2000, the Membership and Art Gift Certificate programs were created to strengthen the Festival’s emphasis on art. Two years later, Nurturing a Student’s Vision (NSV) was developed to encourage children in their passion for the arts. The program has since blossomed to include more than 90 metro schools and over 300 kids and their artwork. NSV continues through the year with artwork displayed at downtown Des Moines’ Central Library. Participating students are honored by the Des Moines Art Center with a family membership and a certificate of achievement.

Beginning in 2002, participating artists were asked to demonstrate their craft during the Festival. Such demonstrations helped to make the art more accessible and create a better understanding between the artists and their artwork. In 2003, the Des Moines Arts Festival reached new artists in the state of Iowa through the Emerging Iowa Artists program. This unique program provides an opportunity for residents of Iowa who are enrolled at any institute of higher education across the nation to display and sell their artwork during the Festival. The artists are juried along with the professional artists, but are not charged fees to either jury or participate.

Answering the call from Des Moines’ growing diverse population, the Festival featured a Global Performing Arts Stage in 2004. Along with two other stages providing music entertainment throughout the Festival, the Global Performing Arts Stage was dedicated to a variety of entertainment from music to dance to gardening lectures.

The 2006 Festival brought about the most significant change since 1998. Since access to the traditional Festival site on the downtown bridges would be under construction, the Festival would need a new location. Eight blocks west of the site construction was concluding on the new David Chipperfield designed library and the John and Mary Pappajohn Higher Education Center. Surrounding these two marvelous buildings was Phase One of Western Gateway Park. In this all-new green space in the downtown community, the Des Moines Arts Festival found its new home.

In its new location, the Festival welcomed Brian Olsen’s Art in Action with rave reviews. His exciting and creative shows thrilled audiences throughout the three-day weekend.The Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2007 with a special performance by The Joffrey Ballet and several new initiatives. Interactive art took a front seat with the GuideOne Insurance Interactive Mural. The collective hand of the community created two billboard-sized replicas of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Irises. The performing arts were also highlighted with live street theatre roaming the Festival site throughout the weekend. Des Moines even celebrated the Festival load-in with LIVE! Load-In Thursday at Blues on Grand! All of this combined with new live music, visual artists, arts activities and more, made the Festival’s 10th anniversary something to remember.

In 2008, the Festival added the Interrobang Film Festival to its roster of art-centric activities to celebrate the art of film. The juried art fair expanded to include 175 professional visual artists. Two new GuideOne Insurance Interactive Murals were created of The Hour of Tea by Frederick Carl Frieseke and Autumn, New Hampshire by Maurice Prendergast. The Festival went green by beginning a reduce, reuse and recycle program. The 2008 event was also named the No. 5 Top Art Fair and Festival in the nation by AmericanStyle Magazine.
In 2009, more than 255,000 people came to the Western Gateway Park to enjoy the Festival. Along with the line-up of professional and emerging artists, the Festival embraced the art of performing and brought in national singer/songwriter, Gavin DeGraw in partnership with the Hy-Vee Triathalon. This indeed made Friday night of the Festival even more memorable.

The Des Moines Arts Festival continued to look at ways to expand the Festival and in 2009 began to embrace the art of being "green." The Festival put in place an expanded recycling program in an effort to make the Des Moines Arts Festival the greenest its been with the recycling of paper, aluminum and plastic as well as using all-serving ware made of recyclable materials including cups made out of corn.

One last addition to 2009 was the presence of the "Blitz Build" in conjunction with Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity. The 1,100 square foot home was hauled in for the Festival where people could contribute for a day, an hour or any amount of time to display their art of giving to others. The exterior of the house was successfully completed and hauled offsite Sunday for an area Des Moines family to enjoy.

For more information on the Des Moines Arts Festival visit

For other events in Iowa take a look at:

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