Iowa’s state parks have inspired visitors ever since the first site, Backbone State Park, opened in Delaware County in 1920.
A century later, the parks’ natural beauty is still a source of inspiration. A new art exhibition called “20 Artists, 20 Parks” opens next month in Des Moines before traveling to Dubuque, Clarinda, and Sioux City. It showcases artwork that 20 Iowa artists made last summer in 20 state parks – all to celebrate the state parks centennial in 2020.
The show is organized by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs; the Iowa Department of Natural Resources; and Iowa State University, which supplied the artists.
“The artwork is as varied as the parks themselves, from the Maquoketa Caves to Stephens State Forest to Gull Point on Lake Okoboji,” said the Iowa Arts Council’s Veronica O’Hern, who helped curate the show. “Together the paintings, sculptures, textiles, photos, videos and other art forms capture the sights and sounds of these unique pockets of the Iowa landscape.”
During their residencies, last summer, the Iowa State artists – mostly fine-arts faculty, plus a few graduate students – worked closely with DNR park rangers to learn about the parks’ ecosystems. The artists visited often to take notes, draw sketches and gather ideas. Many of them created their artwork on-site and will return to their assigned parks in summer 2020 to lead public demonstrations. One of those artists was Christopher Yanulis who created artwork revolving around Pilot Knob State Park in Forest City.
“This project is really a win-win. It encourages outdoorsy folks to appreciate art and art fans to get outdoors,” said Todd Coffelt, chief of the DNR’s State Parks Bureau. “Both elements – art and nature – contribute to Iowa’s high quality of life.”
Organizers decided the exhibition should travel in order to share the artwork statewide, as part of the DNR’s yearlong celebration of the park’s centennial. Outdoor activities will ramp up this spring and summer at the 70 state parks and forests to highlight the importance of recreation, historic preservation, art, culture, and natural resources.
“Iowans understand how much we benefit from the natural environment,” said Luis Rico-Gutierrez, dean of the ISU College of Design. “We’re delighted to work with the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Cultural Affairs to help the public enjoy and interact with our state parks in a dynamic new way.”
The artwork will be at various locations throughout the state. Here is a list of display sites.
“20 Artists, 20 Parks” Traveling Exhibition
March 16 – May 1, 2020
Polk County Heritage Gallery
111 Court Ave., Des Moines
Opening reception: April 9
May 30 – Sept. 20, 2020
Dubuque Museum of Art
701 Locust St., Dubuque
Opening reception: June 5
Sept. 30, 2020 – Jan. 8, 2021
Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum
300 N. 16th St., Clarinda
Opening reception: October (Date TBD)
Jan. 30, 2021 – May 9, 2021
Sioux City Art Center
225 Nebraska St.
Opening reception: Jan. 30, 2021