Des Moines Arts Festival

601 Locust Street, Suite 700
Des Moines, IA 50309


Mission Statement:

The mission of the Des Moines Arts Festival is to enrich the quality of life in Central Iowa by creating an opportunity for people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds to embrace the arts.


The Des Moines Arts Festival traces its beginnings to 1958 when the Des Moines Art Center hosted the first Art in the Park on the grounds of Des Moines' fine art museum. In 1997, with the advent of revitalized downtown urban energy, momentum grew to reinvigorate the 40-year-old event. Armed now with a new name, new leadership and new location, the Des Moines Arts Festival splashed onto the downtown bridges spanning the Des Moines River in 1998 showcasing the nation's premiere artists and creating an opportunity for people of all ages to embrace the arts.

The first Art in the Park attracted little more than a few hundred people in 1958. Nearly five decades later the Des Moines Arts Festival draws more than 200,000 people annually and is the signature art and culture event in Iowa. Since moving downtown in 1998 the festival has hosted more than one million visitors.

Early in the festival's growth it was determined the participating artists would drive the focus of the show. As a juried art fair, the Des Moines Arts Festival developed strong relationships with recognized organizations like the National Association of Independent Artists and International Festivals and Events Association. These relationships assisted in developing the artist program which is now one of the strongest in the nation.

The relationship with Des Moines Art Center continues today with a portion of the proceeds from the festival going to support the city's art museum. Its leadership serves on the festival's board and their presence during the festival contributes to the overall legitimacy of the all-original show.

In 2000, the festival started the Membership and Art Certificate programs. Each of these was created to assist with furthering the emphasis on art. In 2002 a program focused on getting children interested in art at an early age was developed called Nurturing a Student's Vision (NSV). This program has blossomed to include over 80 metro schools and over 300 kids and their artwork. NSV continues through the year with artwork displayed in the community and participating students are honored by the Des Moines Art Center with a family membership and a certificate of achievement.

Participating artists were asked to begin demonstrating their craft in 2002. This was designed to make art more accessible and create a better understanding between the artist and the art.

In 2003 the Des Moines Arts Festival reached new artists in the state of Iowa through the Emerging Iowa Artists program. This amazing program provides new artists studying art at one of Iowa's institutes of higher learning to display and sell their artwork during the festival. The artists are juried along with the professional artists, but are not charged fees to either jury or to participate.

Answering the call from Des Moines' growing diverse population the festival started the Global Performing Arts Stage in 2004. Along with two other stages providing music entertainment throughout the festival, the Global Performing Arts Stage is dedicated to a variety of entertainment from music to dance to gardening lectures.

2006 brought about the most significant change since 1998. Access to the traditional festival site would be under construction and unavailable. Eight blocks west of the site construction was concluding on the new library and the John and Mary Pappajohn Center for Higher Education. Surrounding these two marvelous buildings is Phase One of Western Gateway Park, an all-new green space in downtown. With no choice to move because of construction, the festival found a new home in 2006 in the Western Gateway Park.

In a new location, we welcomed Brian Olsen's Art in Action with rave reviews. His exciting and creative shows thrilled audiences throughout the three-day weekend. And in 2006, the Festival was awarded the Bronze Grand Pinnacle Award from the International Festivals & Events Association, along with eight other Pinnacle Awards for achievements in marketing, merchandise, and programming.

The Des Moines Arts Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2007 in the second phase of Western Gateway Park. Special anniversary activities were headlined by a free performance by The Joffrey Ballet on Friday night under the stars.

For the 2007 juried art fair, the Festival received over 1,400 applications for 135 available spots. Completing the total of 150 artists we showcased during the weekend, we invited the 15 award winners from the previous year to return to the current Festival. All new live music, performing arts, street theatre, arts activities, fireworks and much more made our 10th anniversary something to remember.

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