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Hi! I am Val Van Horne, an Iowa artist who promotes and supports Iowa Creatives through social media with something called River City Art and Music, and I live in an elementary school built in 1939. I will be your guide for the week. This week I spoke with Felica Coe, Larry Kaster, Steve Frevert, Susan Ode Watts, and Annie Williams about the Valley Junction Arts Festival.
Welcome to Off Hours, your free weekly newsletter from the Des Moines Register that highlights all things fun you can do in central Iowa. If you sign up for our newsletter, you get to see this early Thursday morning in your in box.
Here’s the deal: I love history, festivals, art, and being of service to Iowa’s art community and I am going to incorporate all my loves into this newsletter just for you.
Do you like history? I do, it is a part of my DNA. I uncovered fascinating stories about my roots, some tied to Des Moines and an uncle who worked for the Register and Tribune, and some to Valley Junction, where I live today. Fascinating!
And one of my favorite festivals takes place right in my neighborhood. the Valley Junction Arts Festival. Festivals are big part of the culture of Des Moines and as a lifelong metro resident and artist, every year I look forward to the start of festival season.
When I started this article, I had no idea that on October 9, 1893, Valley Junction was incorporated with a population of only 500 people. That is tiny. Today Valley Junction is part of West Des Moines, which has a population of over 68,000, and Valley Junction’s annual arts festival is its longest running event ever and I got to see it is very first poster at the Historic Valley Junction Foundation offices. How cool is that? The handmade poster says the festival was held on Sunday, Aug. 13, 1972, at Fifth and Railroad from noon to 10 p.m. Back then It was called the Valley Arts Festival. This year marks the 50th golden anniversary of the arts festival in Valley Junction.
In addition to this amazing piece of festival history, I also got to see another poster created for the 1973 festival, which was held on Sunday, Sept. 23, from 2 to 9 p.m. The festival continued to be held in the fall as documented on another poster for its 10th anniversary, which states it was held on Sunday, Sept. 20, 1982.
The Valley Junction Arts Festival takes place this Sunday, May 15, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you have not gone, you really should. It is a juried exhibition of fine arts and crafts, and it gives everyone the opportunity to meet, interact with and purchase original work from cool artists.
I met with Steve Frevert, executive director of the Historic Valley Junction Foundation, Annie Williams Temple of Artisan Gallery 218, and Susan Watts of Olson-Larsen Galleries. This year, 50-plus local and regional artists will have their work at the festival with the furthest coming from Madison, South Dakota.
In addition to fine arts and crafts, musical entertainment by Kirk Sloan, an instrumental soloist on classical guitar will be part of the festivities as well. Children’s art activities, live painting and throw your own pottery demonstrations will take place throughout the day. Food and drink vendors will line up on Maple Street and all Valley Junction restaurants, and most businesses will be open, including Big Acai Bowls, one of my favs.
So, what about my love of service to Iowa’s arts community? Well, back in 2014, I decided to get back into my art and connect with local artists, so I started a group called River City Art and Music. We went to a lot of art gallery openings, musical events, etc., etc., paired with a meal at a delicious restaurant. One thing that rang clear as a bell was that members of the group loved to hang around cool Iowa artists and wanted to get to know them. My opinion, Iowa artists are definitely cool.
With years of experience in hospitality management and event planning, I created an event called Riverview Artist Salon so people could hang around cool Iowa artists and get to know them. I will hold my 22nd event on Thursday, June 23, during Art Week Des Moines at The Venue in Valley Junction. Art Week Des Moines starts Friday, June 17, and ends Thursday, June 23, the day before the opening of the Des Moines Arts Festival.
Do you have any memories or photos of the Valley Arts Festival? What is your favorite type of art or music? What is your favorite festival? Does your neighborhood have any cool art and music events? Drop me a line at [email protected]. I would love to hear from you.
My Top 3 Favorite Arts Festivals in the Des Moines area
1.Valley Junction Arts Festival on Sunday, May 15, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Historic Valley Junction. Since Sunday, Aug. 13, 1972, the Valley Junction Arts Festival has been held in Historic Valley Junction, a six square block area filled with antique and specialty shops, art galleries, fashion boutiques, hair salons, service businesses, and restaurants. Many of these businesses will be open to the public during the festival.
2. Art Week Des Moines from Friday, June 17, through Thursday, June 23. Art Week Des Moines is back for its eighth year and exists to activate art, connect artists, and provide avenues for the people of Des Moines to engage and think differently about art. Anchored by neighborhood host sites including Columbus Park, Drake/Dogtown, Franklin Area, Oak Park/Highland Park, The Avenues, and Valley Junction, neighborhoods events will be held indoors as well as outdoors.
3. Des Moines Arts Festival in Western Gateway Park from Friday, June 24, through Sunday, June 26. The Des Moines Arts Festival is a multi-day festival that adds vibrancy to central Iowa by creating opportunities for people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds to celebrate the arts. This festival takes place in the heart of Des Moines surrounding the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Western Gateway Park.
What arts festivals do you enjoy attending? Send me some of your favorites at [email protected].
Eat This, Drink That
Mediterranean toast, $7: Anna at the counter recommended the Mediterranean toast, a surfboard size slice of freshly toasted sourdough topped with avocado spread, tons of small perfectly cubed pieces of tomato and cucumber, freshly chopped parsley, crumbled feta cheese, some sliced Kalamata olives and a nice pesto with punchy garlic. I loved this fresh and healthy change for lunch. No wonder it is a customer favorite.
Get It:Big Acai Bowls at 117 Fifth St., West Des Moines is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 515-608-2816.
Lavenfur mocha, $4: This latte is a customer favorite, and I can attest to that. Made with white chocolate, lavender and coffee roasted by Grounds for Celebration, it’s just the right combination to make any day a “Caturday.” Start your day at Iowa’s only cat café, a coffee shop and cat lounge, where its occupants are cats from the Animal Rescue League of Iowa (ARL) in need of adoption.
Get it: Coffee Cats, at 312 Fifth St., West Des Moines is open Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 515-897-5410.
48 Hours Off
Friday night: There are artists who use paper and canvas, and then there are artists who use skin. Tattoo artists from around the United States will gather to display their skills at the second annual Middle of the Map Tattoo Convention. There will be live music, and people watching people put art on skin. Since it is Friday the 13th, if you are one of the first 50 dressed in character you get a free weekend pass. Hmmm … now where is that wig from Halloween? Hy-Vee Hall, 730 Third Street, Des Moines, on Friday from 2 p.m. to midnight.
Saturday afternoon: And now for something completely different. Cumming is only a 10-minute drive south of Des Moines and the home of Ted Lare Design Build & Garden Center. If you have never been here, you need to take the trip. It is worth the drive. This place is beautiful and offers everything you need to create your own little slice of paradise. This weekend the design center hosts 20-plus local artists showing jewelry, photography, garden art, pottery, fiber art, woodwork, and sculpture. In my book, where there is art and nature there is serenity and do not, we all need that these days. There will be a food truck and live music from a couple of my fav musicians, Joshua Sinclair, and Jodi Sussman Stanfield. No better way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Ted Lare Design Build & Garden Center, 2701 Cumming Ave., Cumming, on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 515-981-1073.
Sunday afternoon: I am spending my “Sunday Funday” at, you guessed it, the Valley Junction Arts Festival. The Valley Junction Art Committee has put a lot of work into this arts festival, and it is better than ever. I love meeting new artists and discovering the behind-the-scenes stories about their work. Do not be afraid to ask artists questions about their work, they are eager to share and happy you have taken an interest. Knowing the back story makes your purchase even more valuable. I am sure I will stop by Big Acai for another delicious smoothie and pop my head into Five Monkeys to chat up the owner Dina Bechman. You should too. Historic Valley Junction, 100 and 200 block of Fifth Street, West Des Moines on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 515-222-3642.
A Heart Warmer
But what about that uncle who worked for the Des Moines Register and Tribune? His name was Bob. Uncle Bob’s arrival into this world was difficult. As a result, he endured small challenges, none of which he could not overcome. Bob could not drive a car, but he could ride a bicycle. On his bicycle, there was not anywhere in Des Moines he could not get to. He favored downtown, visiting his friends at the fire stations, especially the one at Ninth and Mulberry streets, a location that one day would become the Des Moines Social Club, where I held my very first Riverview Artist Salon.
Bob frequented the diner in the old Kirkwood Hotel and delivered newspapers for the Register through all kinds of weather at incredibly early hours. All on his bicycle. I remember a story about how he worked in the press room at the Des Moines Register building at 715 Locust St. for a fleeting period of time, but it did not work out for him. I remember watching the presses through the windows and being in awe of how fast the paper flowed through the huge machines.
Did you know that in 1985, when the Register was sold to Gannett, only the New York Times had won more Pulitzer Prizes for national reporting?
Would you like to share your memories of the Register at Seventh and Locust Streets? Send your favs to me at [email protected].
My Day Job
Since 2014, I have promoted and supported Iowa creatives through Facebook and Instagram as River City Art and Music, attended lots of networking and educational events, spoken at the Des Moines Arts Festival’s Silent Rivers VIP Club, created a website and hosted 21 events called Riverview Artist Salon (my 22nd is during Art Week on Thursday, June 23, at The Venue on Fifth Street in Valley Junction) from 4 to 8 p.m. I have done all this while holding down a full-time day job. Last fall I became part of the “great migration,” moving from full time to part time, and really like spending more time on what I love — family, festivals, art, and being of service to Iowa’s art community.
Thanks for reading! Next week, our politics editor Nic Garcia lets his boyfriend show off all things he loves in Des Moines, including goats.
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