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Iowa Artists Help Celebrate State Parks Centennial
Iowa Ag Connection - 02/13/2020

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.

"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 parks 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 Department of Cultural Affairs to help the public enjoy and interact with our state parks in a dynamic new way."

More information about the 20 Artists, 20 Parks exhibition can be found at 20 parks that are included in "20 Artists, 20 Parks" are featured on the Iowa Culture mobile app, a free and interactive tool to discover arts, history and cultural destinations across Iowa. More information about how to visit the parks is on the app, which the public can download for free from Google Play and the App Store.

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