Des Moines Arts Festival

It’s been way too long since I’ve been to the Des Moines Arts Festival. I hate to even admit it, but the last time I attended, the festival was still on the bridges on the east side of downtown.

Now it’s laid out all over the west end of downtown — in Western Gateway Park, which is also home to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, a fitting setting for an arts festival.

Dave and I arrived at about 6 o’clock tonight and the festivities were already in full swing: music on two stages, the beer tents buzzing, kids with free balloons. And, of course, art. I think in a way it’s good that I’ve missed a few years of the event, because the art seemed really fresh to me this year. There was some repetition by artists, of course, but there was a lot of variety and an abundance of whimsical design.

We enjoyed the emerging artists a lot. These are 22 young Iowa artists (currently in college or recently graduated) including several from Iowa State. Our favorite was Christian Vandehaar of Drake University, however. You can view his paintings of Iowa farmers at work at

Between drooling over paintings I can’t afford and jewelry I can’t afford and the most amazing scissor-cut “drawings” I ever saw (and can’t afford), plus photography I wish I could do myself, I found some yummy food and good music at the arts festival. First, the food: I ordered a veggie pita at the Greek Flame Foods booth, which was technically not on the menu, but the cook layered a warm piece of pita with rice, olives, tomatoes, peppers, feta cheese, yogurt sauce, and lettuce. It dripped down my chin and off my elbows and was totally delicious.

The best music we found was Scars on 45 performing on the Aviva Main Stage. This band was fresh from Leeds, London, on a multi-city tour of the U.S. Des Moines was its first stop. They had adorable accents and were really fun to listen to. Unfortunately, we didn’t think to bring chairs, so we stood and listened to them for awhile and then went back to browsing.

It seems to me, especially this summer, that Des Moines is a great city to support these kind of events. The Arts Festival has incredible corporate sponsorship. Even the downtown parking garages offered free parking — sponsored by various companies. It’s a just fun to be in central Iowa this summer.


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