By Michael Morain
Sure, the Des Moines Arts Festival organizers could send out a plain old press release to announce which artists made the cut for this summer’s show, set for June 22-24 in Western Gateway Park.
But doing things the plain old way isn’t how the festival racked up all its trophies from the International Festivals and Events Association. In their efforts to keep raising the bar, festival director Stephen King and his team decided a few years ago to unveil the list of exhibitors with a big midwinter party, sort of like the RAGBRAI route-announcement shindig that annually attracts more than 1,000 fans of bikes and/or beer. It’s an event in itself.
So this Thursday (Feb. 22), in the art-filled Athene headquarters in West Des Moines, partygoers will be among the first to see which 180 artists were chosen from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants. Attendees can enjoy dinner and cocktails and watch an artist paint a giant canvas on the spot, to be auctioned at the end of the night.
“The festival has such a groundswell of community support,” Massachusetts sculptor Laura Baring-Gould said. “I really think the Des Moines festival is the gold standard. I’m so looking forward to making that drive back.”
And she can. One of the perks of winning the 2017 best-in-show prize is a free ticket to the 2018 show. So once again she’ll pack up her bronze casts of everyday objects—pears, slippers, stocking caps and such—and bring them to Iowa. She recently returned from Thailand with a fresh batch of handmade fish traps she’s been casting in heavy metal.
“I love taking these things that are impermanent and memorializing them,” she said. “When you look at ancient cultures, it’s the metal things that last.”
King wouldn’t divulge any of the new exhibitors on this year’s list but did mention two other 2017 winners he’s eager to welcome back:
- Shawn Harris will return from southern Colorado with a new stack of surreal digital prints that are both ironic and weirdly beautiful—a monkey-cowboy riding a bucking banana, for example, or a bull-headed man ironing a cowhide. The artist has a vast collection of animal masks and poses for most of the photos himself. Lately he’s turned his attention to endangered species. Dinosaurs roam a recent composition with rhinos and polar bears. “I’m doing more work that has an environmental note to it,” he said. “It’s inundating the news. It needs to be explored.”
- Kansas City photographer Chris Dahlquist will also return, this time as both an exhibitor and a juror. Judging from the quality of this year’s applications, she said the show could easily be two or three times larger. But still, only 180 booths are up for grabs. She’ll fill two of them with two kinds of photographic landscapes, one that she prints on steel plates painted with gold, and another she prints on translucent waxed rice paper that reveals identical photos mounted underneath. “I’m interested in pairing material to further the story,” she said. “The story is in the telling.”
The Reveal begins at 6:30 p.m. at Athene corporate headquarters, 7700 Mills Civic Parkway in West Des Moines, following a VIP pre-party that starts at 5:30 p.m. Admission is $125 ($100 for “young professionals”). Get further details and tickets right here.