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Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs designates Iowa Great Places and Cultural & Entertainment Districts

Jul 22, 2022

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs today announced that 13 Iowa communities will receive the state’s support through two creative placemaking programs that put the arts, culture and history at the center of creative community development.

The department designated new Iowa Great Places in Jefferson, Oskaloosa, Washington and Woodbine, and re-designated Appanoose County/Vermillion Township, Bondurant, Council Bluffs, Malvern, Maquoketa and the Turkey River Recreation Corridor.

The department also designated new Iowa Cultural & Entertainment Districts in Iowa City, McGregor and Winterset.

“The Iowa Great Places and Iowa Cultural and Entertainment Districts form the backbone of our state’s overall community building and tourism strategy,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said. “Each place tells an authentic story, and we’re proud to support their proud community spirit and hard work.”

“These communities are committed to transforming their towns and businesses by growing their creative workforce.” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Chris Kramer said. “These programs help Iowans develop and focus a vision for the sustainable development of their cultural places while generating new economic opportunities. We look forward to partnering with them to make their visions a reality.”

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs designates Iowa Great Places to support new and existing infrastructure that cultivates arts and culture, architecture, business, community diversity, historic assets, housing options and the natural environment in their neighborhoods, communities and regions.

Today’s announcement brings the total number of Iowa Great Places to 42 communities, which have collectively received more than $22 million in state support – while leveraging millions more in local investments – since the program started in 2005. Funding for the program comes from the Iowa Legislature through an annual appropriation from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund.

The department designates Iowa Cultural & Entertainment Districts to recognize well-identified, walkable, mixed-use destinations with a high concentration of flagship cultural facilities. Today’s announcement brings the total number of districts to 16.

Both designation programs are key components of Iowa’s creative placemaking strategy, which drives cultural community development and economic opportunities across the state.

Arts and culture production accounts for more than $4.5 billion in economic activity, 43,000 jobs, and 2.3 percent of Iowa’s economy and is one of three key sectors that drive regional economies. In addition, more than two-thirds of young people choose a place to live before a job. Amenities and quality of life are key factors in their decisions.

In rural areas, research shows that communities with more arts and design businesses, music venues and performing arts facilities attract more out-of-county visitors, have higher business innovation scores and experience faster population growth.

Both the Iowa Great Places and Iowa Cultural & Entertainment District programs are administered by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. The list of new Iowa Great Places and CED designations announced today follows:

Newly designated Iowa Great Places

Jefferson has attracted tourists – and recent statewide tourism awards – by installing several public art projects around the Mahanay Bell Tower, a rooftop art project, and the “Ring Out for Art” sculpture exhibition. Downtown features murals created by local students, painted pianos and award-winning installations in several alleys around the square. Jefferson Matters: A Main Street & Chamber Community will facilitate the new Iowa Great Place project plans.

Oskaloosa’s designation builds on a strong tradition of music and support for the arts. Recent projects include the renovation of Trolley Place, restoration of the McMillen Building, launch of a sculpture tour and preservation of the Iowa Bank Building. Plans are underway for a new studio arts center and an expanded partnership with William Penn University. The Oskaloosa Arts & Culture Roundtable will lead the new Iowa Great Place project plans.

Washington has a proud history of arts and theater, notably the State Theatre, the world’s oldest continuously operating movie theater. The former Graham Opera House was once the site of shows presented by film pioneers Frank and Indiana Brinton. The community is also home to three historic districts, including one that surrounds Central Park. The city of Washington will be the primary coordinator of the new Iowa Great Place project plans.

Woodbine and Willow Lake
Woodbine’s track record includes an iconic artistic grain elevator, historic street lights, the Downtown Sculpture Competition and the CREW Center, a $13 million regional wellness center that opened in 2021. Woodbine was recognized in 2014 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Main Street America for its outstanding downtown revitalization. Woodbine Main Street and Harrison County Conservation will lead the new Iowa Great Place project plans.

Newly designated Iowa Cultural & Entertainment Districts

Downtown Iowa City
The Downtown Iowa City Cultural & Entertainment District is located in the heart of Iowa City and is the hub of the “Greatest Small City for the Arts.” Its 26-block area is easily walkable and bikeable, right at the doorstep of the University of Iowa and headquarters of the UNESCO City of Literature. It includes a National Register Historic District, the downtown pedestrian mall, and a dynamic collection of restaurants, music venues, museums, historic theaters, shops, independent cinemas, galleries, bars, and many mission-driven organizations. More than 8.8 million people visited the district in the past year to enjoy its vibrant culture and entertainment ecosystem.

McGregor has a long history of culture and entertainment. Located along the Mississippi River, the district is home to 53 businesses, five public parks and a public garden. A full-service marina, docks and tiki bar line the riverfront, where visitors can peruse an antique bookstore, enjoy several entertainment venues, or shop at the Left Bank Shop & Gallery, which features the work of 76 local artists. Visitors can stay overnight in one of 10 historic buildings and can choose from a log cabin, bed-and-breakfast or an entire home. Riverfront Park provides a sweeping view of the river, and Triangle Park is just one block away in the McGregor Commercial Historic District, home to art festivals, car cruises, the Fireman’s Fish Fry and more.

The Winterset Cultural & Entertainment District is a walkable and accessible 11-block area that comprises multiple cultural, arts and tourism attractions along with green space, murals and public sculptures. It is anchored by the Winterset Public Library, Winterset Art Center, John Wayne Birthplace and Museum, George Stout Marker, Madhaus Gallery and the Madison County Chamber of Commerce and is home to 78 contributing buildings, such as the Iowa Theater, Madison County Courthouse, Iowa Quilt Museum and more.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.