Des Moines got a taste of Orange City.

Des Moines got a taste of Orange City.

It feels like news when Des Moines officials come to Sioux County. It doesn’t happen often, especially with the Department of Cultural Affairs. Budgets are tight. Schedules are full. We’re 200 miles away. And maybe people in the Hub of Iowa think we northwesterners are autonomous.

We like to believe that too, sometimes. But I’ve decided that it’s good to be part of Iowa.

Still, I was concerned that the Community Forum discussion July 30 would be so Des Moines-centered that we would feel superfluous. Mary Cownie and Chris Kramer, from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, came here, along with their consultants who are conducting 22 forums across Iowa… including one in Sioux City and another in Storm Lake. And 37 locals filled the meeting room at Northwestern College. People showed up from at least six towns, 20-somethings to 80-somethings, and representing a range of interests — educators, librarians, city officials, artists, patrons of the arts, Representative Dwayne Alons.

Everyone I spoke with appreciated the discussion.

What makes our communities culturally vibrant, what is missing, and what can the Department of Cultural Affairs do to help? 

The DCA, by the way, includes the Iowa Arts Council, the State Historic Society and Produce Iowa – the new state office of media production. They help bring the arts to rural communities, they are in charge of historic preservation, their latest project is And they head the State Historical Building, and asked for ideas on the Iowa stories that should be told there.

Suggestions flowed freely. We – all Iowans – need more sculpture walks. Trails. Trails with art and history components. More support for local artists. More cooperation. More networking between schools, arts councils, libraries, museums. More local history/ film/ story. Less town competitiveness and more regional-thinking. More travel to different parts of Iowa. Assistance in fundraising. A one-stop-shop in social media – “so we know what’s going on.”

The State Historical Building needs to tell stories honesty, said Kim Van Es of Sioux Center, reporting from her table’s discussion; “It needs to include painful or controversial parts of our history.” How about stories about Native and immigrant communities, the role of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, civil rights history, leadership in education, the polio epidemic, wind energy, rural life and ag business? Suggestions included a stage, gallery, and a bar graph similar to the one at Ellis Island, showing the origin countries of immigrants through the decades.

But this may not help northwest Iowans unless there’s a strong and interactive online presence, and traveling exhibits. And encouragement for schools to bring fifth graders to visit.

The DCA employs 60 people, and Iowa has almost 40,000 people employed by the creative sector, said Chris Kramer of the DCA.  She and her cohorts liked Orange City – the fresh faces at the meeting, the positive attitudes, our ideas, our lovely town.

And it didn’t hurt that they came on a Wednesday, when the Woudstra brat stand was open. “Wow, I’m glad I called you to set up a forum here,’ said Kramer with a smile.

I’m glad, too.

— by Janine Calsbeek, director, Orange City Arts CouncilIMG_7975 Community Forum with Chris Kramer smaller