Communicating culture

Rural Iowa has rich arts and cultural opportunities – but they can be hard to find.

Getting the word out consistently on the area’s many things to do is one way area residents said the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs could help small communities, at a community conversation Monday morning.

Area residents, artists, leaders and lawmakers all attended the first of many such meetings which will take place all across the state to help give the DCA direction in creating a master plan.

“We are criss-crossing the state the state to more than 20 town hall meetings about what is important to you,” said Mary Cownie, DCA director.

Interest in the event was high.

“We were hoping to get 40 people, and I think we have over 60,” said DCA Deputy Director Chris Kramer.

The DCA oversees the State Historical Society of Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council and Produce Iowa, the

e state Office of Media Production. A major renovation of the historical museum building in Des Moines is in the works, and these conversations are part of the process.

Participants split into groups and then reported back as a whole. All groups agreed that better communication was needed.

“We’re culturally vibrant, but perhaps we don’t take advantage of all the opportunities to get that information out,” said Cheryl O’Hern, of Spin Markket in Fort Dodge. “We need to communicate better between each other.”

“There are many dedicated groups in the area – Iowa Central, the Blanden, the Fort Museum and all of those, but they don’t communicate with each other about what’s going on.”

As participants talked, they discovered new opportunities some hadn’t heard of before.

Fort Dodge, Webster City and other communities have active community theaters, for example. There’s the Karl L. King Municipal Band, and the arts and theater opportunities from Iowa Central. Participants also brought up the annual outdoor sculpture event in Webster City, the Bluegrass Festival in Stratford and the Dayton Rodeo.

“There’s culture all around us,” said Iowa Central Band Director Paul Bloomquist. “There something going on every weekend.”

Chris Dayton, of Fort Dodge, said she moved to the area after living both on the East Coast and in California.

“Leaps and bounds from when I first moved here, the things that are available now,” Dayton said. “I’m real excited about some of the things we are doing, and some of the things I think we can do because of our location.”

There should be one single large database, or calendar of events, and one way to submit to it, said Jennifer Condon, Iowa Central dean of liberal arts and sciences. Groups can miss one by mistake when there are too many places to submit to.

“We need that to be central,” said Maureen Seamonds, Webster City artist, “because volunteers come and go. It needs to be consistent.”

The DCA could provide a packet with step-by-step instructions for volunteers to follow on how to market and promote an event, said Judy Perkins, of Fort Dodge, who serves on the Catherine Vincent Deardorf Charitable Foundation.

The groups also said arts and history need to be better emphasized in school.

“If we wait until they’re adults and then try to get them interested in the arts, you’re not going to get it,” said Larry Hansen, a retired band teacher from Dayton. “I think we need to start when they’re young.”

“History is not being taught in schools. We need to make sure kids are learning that, and make it fun,” said Amy Bruno, coordinator with the Fort Dodge United Way. “Someone at our table mentioned that the state of Texas teaches history with comic books.”

Groups also said the new historical building in Des Moines should be interactive, featuring revolving exhibits from all over the state, and have a rich online presence.

Cownie also praised state lawmakers Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge; Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone; and Rep. Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge; who attended the meeting. All have been very supportive of the DCA and economic development, Cownie said.