Ever since John King started publishing the Dubuque Visitor in 1836, Iowa newspapers have been writing the first draft of the state’s history each and every day.

You can read a copy of the “Du Buque” Visitor from June 1, 1836, on microfilm at the State Historical Society of Iowa Research Centers.

During National Newspaper Week, Oct. 3–10, columnists will devote at least a few barrels of ink to the current state and future fate of the industry. But it’s also an occasion to celebrate the past as communities rally to preserve and digitize their hometown newspapers.

“When we think of history, we tend to think in terms of larger events like World Wars or the Great Depression,” said Susan Patterson Plank, executive director of…


The Field of Dreams was crispy when a Hollywood crew showed up to film it back in 1988. That was the hottest, driest summer that folks in Dyersville had seen in years.

The movie crew dammed a nearby stream to collect water for nightly irrigation. Now there’s a well.

These days, there are also more resources to sustain Iowa’s growing film industry. …


Jess Hirsch demonstrates a woodworking demonstration during a workshop for folk artists on June 26, 2021.

The irony isn’t lost on Lea Lovelace. During the Covid pandemic, the folk arts educator used new high-tech tools to demonstrate old traditions and techniques.

“Folk art is about gathering in person and sharing timeless skills in small, intimate settings,” she said from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School in Decorah, where she directs folk arts education. “We had to let go of that, but we’ve still been able to achieve connection and warmth in an online platform.”

That was clear when the Vesterheim and the Iowa Arts Council recently co-hosted a professional development workshop called “Folk Art…


“Our Freedom Story,” 2019, by the Youth Art Team in Waterloo.

Some people think outside the box. In Waterloo, artists and city leaders are thinking outside the whole building.

The local public art commission recently formed a team to spiff up several areas with new murals, especially around entry points into downtown. Their goal is to create at least three new murals every year, working in partnership with the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities.

“When we closed up for Covid, we pushed for a new way of getting art out into the community,” said Chawne Paige, curator at the Waterloo Center for the Arts. …


A film crew visited Art Cullen at his home in Storm Lake. (Hazel Pictures)

Newspaper editors are rarely at a loss for words. But Art Cullen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of The Storm Lake Times, paused for a moment when asked to describe a new documentary about his family’s newspaper.

“It’s beautiful and it’s overwhelming,” he said. “When you’ve been on the other side of the camera your whole life, it’s weird seeing yourself as the focus. You’ve been taught since journalism school that you’re not the story.”

But that story — about the paper and the family who keeps it running — plays out in the quiet drama of “Storm Lake,” which premieres…


With one eye on the past and the other on “The Trail Ahead,” the upcoming 2021 Preserve Iowa Summit (June 3–5) will look two ways at once: back to Council Bluffs’ colorful history as a trailhead for explorers and settlers and, ideally, forward to a bright future where communities across Iowa use history to create a unique sense of place and shared identity.

Gretchen Sorin

But the way forward is dotted with reminders that historic preservation hasn’t always brought everyone along for the ride. …


Historic downtown Council Bluffs

One of Google’s biggest data centers is in Council Bluffs because Abraham Lincoln made a surprise visit to the city one afternoon in August 1859. He’d been campaigning in Kansas when a steamboat captain offered to shuttle him up the Missouri River to Iowa, where locals led him up a hill and pointed way out west to show him a potential route for the first transcontinental railroad.

When Lincoln did, in fact, choose that route in 1864 (over several fiercely competing alternatives), Council Bluffs became the hub of a vast national network of railroads — along which telephone lines and…


River Glen Breitbach

Talk with the northeast Iowa musician River Glen Breitbach about his next project, and you can imagine him shouting “Ollie, ollie, in come free!”

Frustrated by the “hide-and-seek” nature of entertainment options imposed by the Covid pandemic, the Iowa Artist Fellow is calling out fellow Iowa musicians and fans for “We Are Here,” a free concert that will be live-streamed May 29 from xBk, a live music venue in Des Moines.

It’s “a celebration of Iowa music with a diverse array of artists and sounds from across the state,” he said. “It’s an acknowledgment that artists are being forced to…


Film fans from the 2019 Julien Dubuque International Film Festival (Photo: Digital Dubque)

For its 10th anniversary, the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival is going big. Organizers of the April 18–25 event have decided to combine the films that were supposed to be screened last year with a fresh batch of films for 2021. So here’s a quick look at the numbers.

Days: Eight — up from the usual five.

Films: 256 — double the usual.

Visiting filmmakers: 200.

Visitors: “I’d be thrilled if we had a couple thousand,” says Susan Gorrell.

The festival typically draws about 6,000 visitors to downtown Dubuque. …


During the past year, the State Historical Museum of Iowa has collaborated with Iowa students and teachers to overcome the challenges of online learning.

Beginning this month, the museum’s new Virtual Exhibit Experience for Schools will strengthen those connections by giving teachers and students opportunities to examine artifacts and explore Iowa history from the comfort of their homes and classrooms — all with guidance from a museum staff member.

“Teachers from across the state have been using our digital history resources in growing numbers over the past year,” said Jennifer Cooley, the museum’s education and outreach manager. …

Iowa Culture

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs empowers Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to resources. iowaculture.gov

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