Unlock your inner creativity with artistic activities and plenty of other things to do in Iowa
Artistry abounds in Iowa, from public murals that are free to admire to the state’s rich contributions to music, painting and handicrafts. Do-it-yourself workshops, live performances and galleries are all excellent additions to a group itinerary, and these attractions showcase the very best of Iowa’s artistic spirit.
Not-to-be-missed art-centric Iowa spots:
- Surf Ballroom
- Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association Hall of Fame
- Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum
- Carnegie Art Museum
- Pella Opera House
- American Gothic House & Center
- Figge Art Museum
IOWA’S LEGENDARY MUSICIANS
Step into rock ‘n’ roll history at the Surf Ballroom, the Clear Lake venue where Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens performed before a tragic plane crash marked the event as “The Day the Music Died.” Groups can step into a space that still resembles a 1950s ocean-themed dance club with nautical wall art, bamboo furniture and island décor. The property includes a wall of fame that commemorates all of the famous artists who have performed there, a museum of memorabilia and a souvenir shop. Your group can learn more about this important era in music at the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association Hall of & Fame Museum in Arnolds Park. Signed guitars, rare LPs and vintage recording equipment line the exhibit walls in a space dedicated to the state’s contributions to rock history.
Glenn Miller (a big-band trombonist and most popular musician of the swing era) was born in Clarinda, and the city honors his legacy with the annual Glenn Miller Festival. Visitors can learn about the bandleader’s childhood, rise to stardom, service in World War II and musical legacy at the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum. You can also tour his modest childhood home, which is decorated with authentic 1904 furnishings. While in Clarinda, stop by the Carnegie Art Museum to see an expansive collection of international works housed in a renovated 1908 library.
HISTORIC IOWA MUSIC VENUES
Visitors enjoying the Dutch heritage of Marion County will want to explore the Pella Opera House, which was built in 1900 and restored to its former glory in the 1980s. Tours can include a demonstration of the 1928 Barton theater organ or group seating for the concerts and touring musicals that perform at this landmark. During Tulip Time, the Opera House offers tours, concerts, a play on the founding of Pella and films with audience participation.
Groups can enjoy Branson-style entertainment at Browns Century Theater in Le Mars. Housed in a renovated bank building, this venue stages revues of patriotic, country, Celtic and Christmas music staged by the talented Brown family. Buffet meals are served in the Browns’ newly renovated Central Event Center across the street.
IOWA’S COLORFUL VISUAL ART
Public art tours are an excellent way for groups to absorb the local character and artistic richness of Iowa’s communities, especially in Charles City. An innovative sculpture collection of “Art you can sit on” comes in whimsical shapes, with installations found along both sides of the Cedar River. Additional pieces including “Wheels of Change” (enormous gears resting on each other), “Almost Neon” (abstract shapes that represent window browsers) and “Archset” (a gate constructed from recycled gears and wheels) are installed in Central Park. More pieces can be found scattered throughout the community and make for an invigorating outdoor activity.
At the American Gothic House & Center in Eldon, your group can pose for a photograph in front of the building immortalized by Grant Wood’s 1930 masterpiece. The painting, which depicts a father and daughter modeled after Wood’s sister and dentist, can be replicated by positioning group members against the structure’s signature Gothicstyle window. Groups can tour the museum and nearby prairie gardens and can watch educational films on Wood’s legacy.
Further art history awaits at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport. This collection of nearly 3,000 works houses American Regionalist, Mexican Colonial and Haitian art in a stunning Modernist building along the Mississippi River.
Motorcoach groups can also admire the uniquely Midwestern tradition of barn quilts. These enormous geometric paintings replicate the patterns of hand-sewn quilts and often adorn barns, commercial buildings and even residential garages. You can spot over 30 of these creations during a drive through Clayton County in the northeastern corner of the state. Group members can even purchase a block design to craft their own quilt modeled after the murals.
Make-and-take studios are an excellent way for group members to create their own art in a relaxed setting and bring the handiwork back to friends and family. Popular with large parties is Studio Fusion in Fort Dodge. Budding artists can create simple pottery, Christmas ornaments and jewelry with the assistance of a friendly local artist or purchase a gift in the storefront. Groups are also welcome at the Blanden Memorial Art Museum in Fort Dodge’s Oak Hill Historic District. The museum’s permanent collection includes European paintings, African sculptures and Japanese prints in addition to rotating exhibits that showcase contemporary artists.
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