Come check out Des Moines… you just might want to stay (forever!)

Hello there. Happy 4th of July! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. Mine was great. I’m going to tell you a little bit about it in this post,  where I’ll also fill you in on all the fun stuff happening in Des Moines this summer. I’ve been pleasantly surprised (much like I was when I visited the Art Center) at the number and quality of things to do and see here. I’m not gonna lie – I’m writing this post mainly to try to lure my east coast friends into moving here, or at least visiting!

Let’s start off with some factoids about Des Moines. We’ll start with something easy and then move into some lesser-known tidbits. Are you excited? Ok. Hold on to your pants.

*Des Moines is the capitol of Iowa.

*Des Moines has a skyline. With tall buildings, not tall stalks of corn. (I did not know this until I drove into town last summer.)

*Des Moines’ metro population is around 560,000.

*Des Moines is home to Meredith Corporation (publisher of Better Homes and Gardens, among others).

*Des Moines is home to the Drake Relays, an annual track and field event that draws some of the best athletes in the world. This year the Relays hosted 23 Olympic gold medalists. The city was pushing for a bid on the 2020 Olympic trials (not sure if we won or not).

*Des Moines’ downtown is entirely walkable by sidewalk (duh). However, if you hate the outdoors, you can always use the 4 miles of skywalks, which connect almost all of the buildings and parking garages downtown (map here). There is also a free shuttle that runs every 10 minutes, in a loop from one end of downtown to the other and back. I’ve been in the skywalk once. I think the weather here in the winter is pretty nice. I only scraped my windshield 3 or 4 times all winter (this is purt near miraculous to a ND girl)! The average temp in the winter is 23 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ok, did you get your fill? I did. A little more than I wanted, actually… let’s talk about what to do here now!

I was telling you yesterday that I’ve been pleased with my decision to live downtown. I really like the location. As an artist, it’s a treat to be able to walk through a world-class sculpture park every single day (John and Mary Pappajohn park). I also live close to the main public library, which was recently renovated (2006) and is architecturally beautiful, with its sleek lines and coppery facade. There is a good deal of green space in front of the library, on which various activities are held.

Last week, that green space was home to the main stage during the Des Moines Art Festival. This free event is huge – they block off two of the major streets downtown and fill them with artist booths, vendors, and other businesses from the community. One of the coolest ones was Habitat for Humanity – they built an entire house over the weekend and then carted it off for a family in need.

Different musical acts play on the main stage throughout the festival, and it’s free to pull up a lawnchair or blanket, plop down, and listen to your heart’s content. The biggest name they had this year was Aaron Neville. I was quite sure I’d never heard of him, until he started singing. I’m so bad at remembering musicians’ names 😦 As soon as he opened his mouth, I realized I knew almost all of his songs well enough to sing along (in my head, of course… singing is not one of my talents!).

Anyway, the Art Festival is juried, and competition for a spot is stiff. I read that they typically have 1100-1200 applicants, from all over the country, for around 185 spots. Yikes! Needless to say, most of the work shown is excellent. If you can get in, the exposure is tremendous. 200, 000 people come through every year, over a three-day period.

In addition to the live music, art, and food, there is also a film festival – the Interrobang Film Festival, to be precise. This is ALSO free to the public. An impressive number of films were shown, but I didn’t check any of them out, so you’ll have to click here to read about them, if you’re interested.

If the Arts Festival isn’t enough, Des Moines also has a giant Farmer’s Market downtown, every Saturday morning, May -October, from 7am-noon (8-noon in October). There are around 300 vendors at the market, and I’ve heard that crowds can swell to 10,000 on any given Saturday.

Another one of downtown’s biggest annual events is a music festival called 80/35, which was started in an effort to put the city on the map as a fun place to visit. 80/35’s inaugural year was 2008 and it has been a huge success ever since. It attracts upwards of 30,000 people, all of whom are looking to see big names (on the paid, main stage) and up-and-comers (on myriad free stages). Talent they’ve booked in the past has included the Flaming Lips, the Roots, Avett Brothers, Ben Harper, Death Cab for Cutie, and many others (those were the ones I vaguely recognize; like I said earlier, I’m terrible with names!). This year the headliner is the Wu-Tang Clan. I have heard of them!

(Here is the schedule.)

Anyway, it just so happens that my apartment faces the green space in front of the library. It also just so happens that the main stage is on that green space, directly facing my building. Consequently, I have become very popular at work as of late. Ha! I cleaned my toilet tonight, just in case I have company! Everyone in my building gets a free ticket for both days (Friday and Saturday). I think this is so they get us out of the building… if we’re at the party, we aren’t going to complain about the noise, right? Pretty smart!

I’m looking forward to seeing what this event is all about, and I’ll do my best to blog about it sometime next week. To finish up my narrative: I’m starting to feel at home here. I really like the area, events, weather, and people, and I’m going to do my best to figure out how to stay here once my Artist-in-Residence contract is up.

There are a couple of other things I want to tell you about, but this is getting long, and my bed is starting to look very inviting. I’m going to switch to list mode. Every $ = 10 bucks (approx.)

Nitefall on the River: live music in the Simon Estes outdoor amphitheater, Wednesday nights startings at 6pm. $$+

Jazz in July: live outdoor music, rotating locations, 4x a week. Free

Yankee Doodle Pops: DSM Symphony Orchestra, fireworks, Capitol lawn, for the 4th of July and New Year’s. Free

I went to this and it was fun! Crowd was estimated at 100,000 people, but it felt welcoming and was family-friendly.

Des Moines Metro Opera: various shows and events. $$$$

Iowa Cubs baseball (Chicago Cubs’ farm team): various days and times, fireworks after Friday evening games. Sundays, bring 3 canned goods and receive a free general admission ticket. $

Jasper Winery: summer concert series; live outdoor music every Thursday from 6-9pm. Free

Free Flicks: DSM Parks and Recreation, movies outdoors on giant screen, various days, 9pm. Free

Dancing at the Lake: Learn ballroom dance at Gray’s Lake, every Thursday 7:30pm. Free

Yoga in the Park: Gray’s Lake, every Saturday 9-10am. Free

This is just a fraction of the many, varied, things to do in Des Moines this summer! Come on down! Hope to see you soon…

(Community Calendar)

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One comment on “Come check out Des Moines… you just might want to stay (forever!)

  1. Reblogged this on molliewheelerdrake and commented:
    Des Moines is the coolest

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