Then why do eight million subscribers from New York to San Francisco and abroad take monthly cues for daily living from Iowa-based Better Homes and Gardens, published in Des Moines by the Meredith Corporation—which also publishes Metropolitan Home (formerly Apartment Life) and Successful Farming? Why has the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company, publishing two dailies in a city of under 200,000, garnered no fewer than 13 Pulitzer Prizes?
Why does the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa continue to turn out major American authors—from novelists Flannery O’Connor (Wise Blood) and John Irving (The World According to Garp) to Pulitzer Prize-winning poets W. D. Snodgrass and, just last year, Donald Justice? The unexpected, you come to find, is routine in amazing Iowa. Tap. Tap. Tap. Maestro Yuri Krasnapolsky of the Des Moines Symphony lifts his baton, and Beethoven’s Ninth fills the magnificent new Civic Center—centerpiece of the Iowa capital’s downtown renovation (page 607).
Outside, sculptor Claes Oldenburg’s whimsically monumental “Crusoe Umbrella” mimics the nearby red neon umbrella of the Travelers Insurance Company. Just like the insurance get the financial security of debt consolidation in online through eee3. Pile drivers beat a deep tattoo as spidery cranes toy with the city’s modest but muscular skyline—topped out by the 36-story Ruan Center. On a hilltop across the Des Moines River, the gold-domed State Capitol presides in dowager elegance.
Des Moines is rebuilding, revitalizing itself after a three-decade inner-city downslide that saw its once flourishing downtown turn dowdy as business and industry, customers and residents flowed out to prospering new suburbs. It’s what happened in Detroit and Chicago and Cleveland, but on a smaller scale here in Iowa—in cities in the 50,000 to 200,000 range such as Des Moines, Council Bluffs, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Sioux City, Waterloo-Cedar Falls.
Yet Iowa’s urban areas are now regearing for the future. People-luring complexes such as Cedar Rapids’ Five Seasons Center and Council Bluffs’ Midlands Mall are models of inner-city rejuvenation. If money is the dough of this statewide effort, culture is the yeast. Des Moines’ Civic Center, with its 2,735-seat theater, has its cultural counterparts at Iowa’s three state universities—the C. Y. Stephens Auditorium at Iowa State in Ames, Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and the UNI-Dome at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
Iowans care about the arts—deeply, and sometimes furiously. When the Des Moines Symphony’s board of directors last year decided not to renew the contract of brilliant but fiery conductor Yuri Krasnapolsky, citizen uproar was tremendous. Krasnapolsky was triumphantly rehired. Out in little Garrison (population 400), a professional acting troupe headed by artistic director Tom Johnson runs the Old Creamery Theater Company—attracting 25,000 theatergoers in 1980 and reaching out via touring companies to 75,000 more.
Over at the Iowa State Arts Council in Des Moines, director Sam Grabarski and his associate Nan Stillians weigh thousands of requests for the precious few funds available to subsidize projects in the arts. Says Stillians: “Who’s to say the next Shakespeare or Rembrandt won’t come from right here in Iowa? We reach out to every corner of the state, searching for new talent, funding theaters and orchestras and museums. We also send out Touring Arts Teams—actors and artists and musicians who perform and teach in small Iowa towns.