New technology, hospitality suites and national touring acts will all be part of the 2013 Des Moines Arts Festival.
The festival — its roots go back to the 1950s, though it looks much different today — is June 28-30 in Western Gateway Park in downtown Des Moines. It is internationally known as one of the best arts festivals.
“The level of understanding and appreciation for original visual art has increased dramatically,” says Stephen King, who is heading into his eighth year as executive director of the Des Moines Arts Festival. “We’ve become a much more competitive festival nationally. And nationally, the Des Moines Arts Festival is looked to as an example of how to manage a festival… while still keeping it both a community festival, as well as a visual arts festival that artists of this caliber can enjoy.”
The International Festivals & Events Association in 2012 and 2011 awarded the Des Moines Arts Festival a Bronze Grand Pinnacle Award, meaning it’s among the best festivals in the world. The festival received the gold award in 2010. AmericanStyle Magazine in 2008 named it among the top five art fairs and festivals in the United States.
“The festival itself is very well run,” says Kathryn Dickel, communications director for the Des Moines Arts Festival. “It’s got a great reputation with the artists who do the art festival circuit as a great place to come. The community has come out over the years to support it by buy art. It definitely has a reputation for being a show that somebody can come to and be very successful at.”
Arts Festival’s roots go back to 1950s with Art Center show
The idea of an arts festival began in 1958 when the Des Moines Art Center hosted the first Art in the Park in the Rose Garden behind the art center. A few hundred people attended the event.
All of that changed in 1997 when downtown Des Moines began to undergo revitalization, and the area was redeveloped.
The first official Des Moines Arts Festival was held in 1998 on the downtown bridges. Since that time, the festival has grown both in size and through the types of events and activities that take place at it. In 2006, the festival moved to Western Gateway Park, where the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park serves as its backdrop.
“Imagine our city without it,” King says of the arts festival. “It means so many different things to so many different people. To me, that’s what we try to do every day to make sure we appeal to the widest audience. What it means to Des Moines is really the opportunity to immerse yourself in whatever creative adventure you allow yourself to go through.”
The Arts Festival now not only features artists from all over the country, but it celebrates up-and-coming Iowa artists, provides entertainment for families and all ages and gives attendees a chance to see first-hand how pieces of art are made. New this year are hospitality suites, an upgraded mobile website, and events where people can create their own art while drinking wine or eating a cookie through “Corks and Canvas” and “Cookies and Canvas.”
National touring acts Los Lobos, a Grammy-winning Chicano rock bank, will perform along with Aaron Neville, an R&B and soul singer. Robert Stuverud, better known as Roberto the Magnificent, also will bring his juggling and acrobatic act to the arts festival.
There’s also an Iowa craft beer tent that features beers from 13 breweries in Iowa, including a specially brewed beer just for the festival — the Sassy Saison, from Court Avenue Brewing Co., which features a label with artwork by local artist Chris Vance and designed by Holly Baumgartel.
Arts festival attendees will have a chance to decorate one of 840 tiles that will later be installed in the downtown skywalk system.
“There’s always a new experience, and I think that keeps people coming back,” Dickel says.
More than 200,000 people attended the arts festival last year.
Competition is high among artists for a festival spot
For the past several years, more than 1,100 artists have vied for one of the 185 spots that are available for the arts festival.
The festival is a juried event, meaning a group of five selected individuals — both show participants and others with ties to the arts community — meet to choose those who will receive invitations to Des Moines’ event.
Applicants were required to submit six images of their work, including a booth shot as part of the blind jury process. All images were viewed and scored.
King says he’s proud that the festival continues to remain competitive among the art world and that the number of applicants has remained steady even in tough economic times.
“Over the last four years or so, the applications started to go down across the country,” he says. “Some shows were losing anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of their applications. Not only have we maintained, but we’ve grown in terms of applications we received.”
The arts festival consistently receives between 1,100 and 1,200 applications.
This year more than 100 new artists will be at the festival.
Armstrong of Richmond, Va., was the artist selected to create the collectible poster for this year’s festival.
His piece includes various elements of Des Moines from the city’s bridges to images of the downtown to classic cars on a city street to the Capitol to the sculpture garden. The result is an Americana or vintage feel in a collage that uses all of these elements.
The artists selected represent a wide spectrum of medium and price ranges for their work.
Dickel says she thinks it’s a misnomer that art is expensive. She notes that the arts festival has a lot of pieces that are affordable.
“If you’re somebody who is on a smaller pocketbook… I don’t think anybody should be scared off by the festival or think ‘There’s nothing there for me,’ because there is,” she says.
Marketing campaign tries to connect festival with personal experiences.
This year’s theme for the arts festival is “Go Where it Takes You.”
“I think that’s really kind of the core spirit of the festival,” Dickel says, adding that there are varied reasons people are drawn to the arts festival.
For that reason, organizers have embarked on a video campaign that tells the stories of stakeholders and where the festival has taken them through the years.
One of the most heartwarming stories comes from a couple who each year go to the festival and buy each other a gift from it, something that symbolizes their love for each other.
“Once you get into the stories, you get to see how important the event is to people’s everyday lives and how they take the festival back into their world,” Dickel says.