No, Mo… Dana

I didn’t know Mo Dana all that well. I wish I would have, though. The former executive director of the nationally ranked annual Des Moines Arts Festival (it ranked 4th in the U.S. this year) died Nov. 9, after an eight-month battle with cancer.

Early on, when Art Scene was just forming, I would often hear in artist circles that Mo wasn’t well liked. At the time I didn’t quite understand it. But I would soon enough.

It was always artists who grumbled about how the Des Moines Arts Festival didn’t allow enough Iowa artists into the event. And more often than not, fingers were pointed directly at Mo for being the culprit. It seemed that the proverbial conspiracy theorists actually believed Mo was so powerful that she could blacklist Iowa artists from being admitted into the festival.

That’s when I became more interested in Mo. I thought, “How in the world can one woman do this?” So, off I went, pen in hand, to confront Mo and break the story that it was true—Mo didn’t like Iowan artists.

Anyone who met Mo, as I was able to do that day, realized quickly that hers was not a personality to take lightly. Although she presented herself as a hard-hitting, go-getter, underneath it all was an enormously likable person. Her smile set you at ease.

I got right to the point: “Mo, why won’t you allow Iowan artists into the Des Moines Art Festival?” And with a small shake of her head, she sat back in her chair and explained, very simply, that I was misinformed.

She had been given a job to do by the City of Des Moines, she said. That job was to re-invent Des Moines’ Art in the Park festival into an event of national caliber—and she did. Much to her surprise, she took a lot of grief for her efforts from artists themselves—grief that she shouldered year after year, knowing that the greater good emanating from the success of the Des Moines Arts Festival outweighed such unconstructive behavior.

At the festival’s conception, it immediately seemed that local and Iowa artists expected to be included. Well, why not? The name was the Des Moines Art Festival, right? So why not include every artist here? Maybe the name was incorrect or misleading, but the simple fact is that Mo did the job she was asked to do. It had nothing to do with where an artist lived, and everything to do with the creation of a nationally acclaimed attraction. An artist could be from Des Moines, Florida or Timbuktu. It didn’t matter.

It’s simple, really. If some Iowa artists were not good enough to be invited to the festival, well, they were not good enough to be invited to the festival. And now, the new director, who has the honor of succeeding Mo, inherits one of the greatest art festivals in the nation, but he also must put up with cry-baby antics and badmouthing from seemingly scorned artists who feel slighted. I mean, does anyone in his right mind believe a prerequisite in the application process for the director’s job is a desire to shun Iowa artists?

Every festival has judges that blindly evaluate art, knowing only the category in which the piece falls, not where it was created. It’s simple, you see. Like every other art festival or show around the country, the judging at the Des Moines Art Festival is fair and unbiased. Nevertheless, the complaints will continue… even after Mo’s passing.

And, if I may, even though I didn’t know her well, say that Mo was one of the fairest people I’ve met. She was honest, a straight shooter, and she deserves to be remembered for what she did for Iowa. Not what for she didn’t do.

Happy Holidays. — Roderick Kabel

Memorial contributions can be sent to Mercy Cancer Center, in care of The Mercy Foundation, 1111 Sixth Ave., Des Moines, IA., 50314. Please call (515) 875-4848 for more information.



Six, seven, eight… Degrees of degeneration

When I started my career in publishing as a newspaper graphic designer, one of the first ads I created was your run-of-the-mill ad for a local business. But what made it a little special for me was that this ad was for a new microbrewery that had just opened in downtown Des Moines.

I remember the day when I joyfully wandered oer’ to my new watering hole. What sweet aromas, thou hast. Moreover, with this new brewery came some of the hippest names of beer I had ever heard, and along with these names came just as astonishing logos—cool logos, larger than life and plastered onto the walls. The microbrewery sensation had just literally blasted onto the national scene with a one-two punch in the face.

So, upon looking through the ad specs and ad materials given to me, I noticed a matchbook. A matchbook with the brewery’s signature logo and colors on it. It was cool. But to be able to create this ad that I so wanted to be proud of, I needed more than a mere matchbook for artwork.

Off I naively went to my sales rep to ask for a better sample of the logo—which, to my surprise was all there was. Not even a menu to scan. Or a napkin I pondered a minute. Then two, about how I could obtain a better quality logo on which to build my ad.

Then it dawned on me that this logo had to be created by someone, somewhere. It wasn’t a miraculous conception that just appeared on the side of the brewery’s building. It did exist… I knew it.

Thus, after a little coaxing of my sales rep, I convinced her to ask the brewery manager for a digital version of the logo. Within a few hours a disk arrived with the logo. Shortly after that, my wondrous ad was printed and out the door to the client. There was much rejoicing.

I was in that same brewery a few weeks ago and noticed a poster they had hung on the bathroom wall. What caught my eye was that their logo was so badly bitmapped—on their own poster!—that I could hardly read it. I was appalled.

I thought, what in the world has become of this place? And it jolted me right back to the dilemmas that I deal with and have dealt with during my many years as a graphic artist:

Where is the original art? What? You want me to take WHAT from your Web site? And create an ad?

What I’ve seen over the past decade is a degeneration of graphic logos. Sure, there’s plenty of designers out there creating kick-ass logos. But what happens to them when it’s sold to their client? Think about it.

The artist drops off his or her disk to the business owner, who gives it to the manager, who then sends it to Mr. Fast Print for business cards and any other materials needed. Then, Joe Manager forgets to ask for the disk back from the printer. So when Bill the Owner gets hit up for advertising, the original digital logo has gone missing. Now, little Miss Katie Graphic Designer has to scan a matchbook to recreate Bill’s logo for his ad.

Plus, let’s not forget the variable of employee turnover. Can you imagine how many businesses have either fired or lost employees who were the only people who knew anything about the whereabouts of original logo artwork? Or, for that matter, who the hell created it for them in the first place? Logos can cost a lot of money, too!

Subsequently, here we are in a continuous cycle of creating and recreating. It’s not fun. I truly believe that we need to take better care of the graphic design aspects of the world as much as we cherish the finer arts.

So, please do yourself and Miss Katie Graphic Designer a favor. Keep a digital record of your logo that can be easily accessed and passed out to those who need it. Make it 300 DPI, high resolution and, for gawd’s sake, stop telling people to get logos from your Web site.

— Roderick Kabel

Change is a good thing

Yes, we said that the exhibition scene would return this month, but it will not. Sorry. What we should have told you last month is that we’re actually eliminating the exhibition scene. For a good reason, though — more editorial. Trust me. Change is good, right?

Likewise, I’d like to remind you that we have an online calendar (that’s free to everyone) and most of Iowa’s exhibitions are already there. Many people are entering their entire year’s worth of events and happenings, too. So for those that will miss our exhibitions, please check out our online calendar to keep yourself abreast of what’s happening across Iowa.

And along with this change, we’re doing a little sprucing up on our cover and inside pages. Just a little. We’re taking our time and making a few
aesthetic changes that we think are beneficial — and they just look darn
pretty. Besides, change is a good thing, right.

On to this month’s cover story. Andrew Brink brings us a glimpse into Des Moines’ theater world. Surprisingly to me — with Des Moines’ large population — one would assume that its’ theater scene is as large as its’ vibrato. However, as Andrew points out, there are numerous aspects to being an actor that many of us don’t realize exist. Such as Joseph Leonardi points out, “At times, there can be little to sustain us.” Which makes a person wonder if this is true throughout our state. Needless to say, it’s tough out there all over.

Oh! I almost forgot. For those of you who have missed our weekly newsletter Culture Flash, it’s coming back soon. Are you signed up? — Roderick Kabel

Giving is falling out of style

According to Giving USA, a non-profit group that studies philanthropy, last year in the United States donations to cultural groups accounted for 5.2 percent of individual philanthropy, down from 8.1 percent a decade earlier.

And although 83 percent of adult Americans say they have contributed to a charity during the past 12 months, the Chronicle of Philanthropy says that donors were more likely to give that money to religious charities (35 percent), followed by groups that seek to curb hunger (34 percent), and organizations that deal with health issues (31 percent).

Now then, we can continue to pound the desks of our legislators, fighting over the dwindling funding, grant, and philanthropy crumbs available to arts and culture organizations, or we can start looking into alternative methods to fulfill our promise to future generations.

Let’s face it, when competition for dollars is between God, starving children, or $50,000 for a Wagnerian opera, it becomes quite obvious that the arts can no longer compete. It then becomes not a question of can we afford it, but rather how can we achieve the same illusion without spending the money. It is possible to get on with less, much less than we are, if we start looking at ourselves as partners with the business industry, rather than victims of a system that doesn’t understand our worth.

The answer is, of course, all around us in our cities, counties, and neighborhoods: partnerships.

Remember, it doesn’t cost millions of dollars to create great art. And, I can honestly guarantee you that the arts will survive, regardless of the size of our museums, concert halls, and annual budgets.

Let’s stop whining. There’s too much work to be done.

Ode to Meghan Hackett

Some time ago, I was contacted by a writer in Dubuque looking for work. She had the credentials, the connections as well, and the spirit I enjoy. There wasn’t much writing I could assign her at the time but, I very much enjoyed her previous work.

A close friend, Brice Johnson, publisher of the “Original” VUE365 newspaper in Dubuque, had already published a few of her articles and as I perused his past issues of the VUE365, this inquiring writer’s name kept popping up. My intrigue with her and her writings grew immensely.

Her first article that caught my eye was about the National Geographic photographer, Louie Psihoyos — many of you should remember the article in Art Scene with Louie’s photo of Hunter S. Thompson on the cover.

The second article of hers that caught my eye was about comic book artists living in Iowa. Specifically, Phill Hester who lives in North English — many of you should remember the article in last month’s Art Scene with the superhero on the cover.

As one can tell, writing and journalism has no time limit. Hence, why we re-published two stories from Dubuque’s VUE365 by this writer. Her stories needed to be heard by more Iowans, and that’s just what she did. She shared with us and we shared her with you.

Unfortunately for me, I never did met her in person, but have heard many grand things about her. Sadly, I will never get to meet her, though. She passed away suddenly a few months ago.

Meghan Hackett was 23 years old, and as I’ve heard, her infectious smile touched many people. It is truly a loss to all of us, and to her family, her fiance Jeff, to Dubuque, Dubuque’s Young Professionals Network, and last, but not least, Iowa.

However, her pen will be timeless. — Roderick Kabel

Snap Decisions, part deux

Art Scene is accepting entries for our second annual “Snap Decisions” photo contest. This is an open competition; no distinction will be made between professional and amateur photographers. I’m excited to say we’re already getting submissions.

The top three photos in each category will appear in print in our August issue. There will be a $100 prize given to the top photo in each of the five categories, and gift certificates to The Art Store in Des Moines will be awarded to the two runners-up in each category.

Entries must be submitted via email by 5 p.m., June 30. Only one entry per photographer is allowed in each category. Submit to
The categories are:

• DEADLINE NEWS: A news photo or series of photos that shows a breaking news event, such as (but not only) crime, accidents, fires, arrests.

• SCENIC: Landscape scenery which may or may not include people or animals as a secondary emphasis.

• WILDLIFE: Photos with their principal subject of one or more animal, plants or insects.

• ARTISTIC: A photo that shows the creative side of the photographer, with any subject. (Photos may be manipulated with a computer in this category ONLY.)

• PEOPLE: A photo that has as its principal emphasis one or more persons, including individual portraits.

• BASIC RULES: The photo must be taken by the person who submits it, and he or she agrees that photos submitted may be published in Art Scene LLC, and on our Web site without compensation. As a condition of submission, the contestant affirms that he or she owns full rights to the photo.

For the complete rules and guidelines, please go to our Web site and click the link for the contest.

The world’s largest tenderloin?

While listening to CNN’s Pipeline internet broadcast the other day, I heard the word ‘Iowa’ mentioned. My ears perked up: the word ‘Iowa,’ I just knew, would be followed up by a political candidate’s brief stop here and their moronic attempt to ‘be one of us.’

Instead, I heard a Budget Travel’s reporter, Erik Torkells, being interviewed about his recent road trip through Iowa.

Torkells went on and on… and on, about how wonderful his trip to Iowa was. The great people he met, the demolition derbies, our small town courthouses, Pella, Sioux City, Fairfield, Jefferson’s Bell Tower Festival, Marshalltown, Gladbrook’s Matchstick Marvels museum and Smitty’s king tenderloin in Des Moines.

This is exactly what we need in a time when Iowa is getting little media attention aside from the upcoming elections. It’s bad enough that late night television
fodder consists of nothing but bad jokes about Iowa.

Check out this excerpt from Torkells:

“Then we go to the drive-in (which has also since closed, the way drive-ins tend to do). It’s only my second drive-in ever, and I’m so excited by the prospect that I agree to see Cars while sitting in a car, even after we sat in a car all day.

We arrive early, and it’s like a John Mellencamp song. Kids are playing catch in front of the screen, Eddie Money’s Baby Hold On is blaring out of the speakers, and the sunset is so pretty it looks like God has taken up airbrushing. Just when the quintessential midsummer night can’t get any better, a big bug drifts down between us. We start to spaz out, and it lights up. I’m in Iowa, and it’s heaven.”

Thank you, Mr. Torkells, for getting us Iowans ‘right.’

Go to and type in Iowa to read Stop and Smell the King Tenderloin. — Roderick Kabel

P.S. The World’s Largest Pork Tenderloin is actually at the St. Olaf Tap in St. Olaf, Iowa. I could only eat half myself. It’s ginormous!

Cathy… is a culture-holic!

As a teenager in 1980s small-town Iowa Falls, I was literally starved for culture. The closest cities to me hinted that there was more, but my eyes opened wide as to how much culture there really is in Iowa when I moved to Des Moines to attend Grand View College.

At GVC, I hung with the students on my end of the campus — the theatre people, the radio/TV gang, and the artists. There were performances and art shows to attend; there was always something going on in Des Moines. I loved it. I was in culture heaven. I even found my own ‘art’ there — photography.

After college, I spent time photographing local musicians — Larry Myer, The Mighty Plastisols, Jack Gallup, Dogtown — and after kicking around Iowa for awhile, I landed in Iowa City, working for the (now defunct) alternative-weekly newspaper, the Icon, as office manager and calendar editor.

For a small-town wide-eyed gal like me, the sheer amount of calendar listings boggled me. It became my weekly itinerary: bands, gallery openings, readings by nationally-known writers… it was an incredible abundance of culture.

But how, I wondered, did these artists, musicians, and writers make money practicing their art?

In retrospect, I think I would’ve become a freelance writer sooner if someone would’ve taught me the business of being a writer. Instead, I’ve taken a lot of hard knocks as I’ve stumbled along the path to being an independent ‘artist.’

In the end, it’s paid off — I get to combine my love of writing and my love of culture — and now I’m in a position to do what I wish someone would’ve done for me: show that it’s realistic to make money with your ‘art.’

With that in mind, this issue is about arts as a business, featuring sage advice from veteran artists and profiles of Iowa’s young movers and shakers in the art world. They’re a savvy, dedicated bunch, and they prove that having big dreams, and sometimes a solid business plan, can pay off in the end. — Cathy Wilkie

Once again, Snap Decisions

August brings our second annual photo contests winners and runner ups. We asked seven friends of Art Scene to assist with the judging. Each judge was from a different region of Iowa and most work in different careers in the arts. From business owners to artists to a professional photographer and even the wife of a publisher. The judging is final and we hope this issue gives our readers a little something different. Not to mention giving Iowa photographers a vehicle to show their talent.

All of the entries submitted this year were outstanding making choosing the winners much too difficult.

Last year, I was surprised that my picks were so very different than the other judges. This year, many of the judges choose a lot of the same entries for winners, though. A good sign, I’d say. And maybe, just maybe, my eye for photography is getting better as well.

Congratulations to all the winners and runners-up. Prizes will be awarded in the next few weeks and winning entries will be posted on our Web site soon. The First Place winner in each category will receive one hundred bucks and First Runners-up will get gift certificates from The Art Store in Des Moines (

Welcome Miranda
Maybe some of you have seen recent ads in Art Scene and around the state for our open position for a qualified advertising sales person. Well, we found one. Her, that is. Miranda Perdue has joined our team and has come out of the gate with both barrels blazing.

In one week’s time Miranda has made more progress than we could have hoped for. Wished for. Or, prayed for.

She — as the illustrious words of Jimmy J.J. Walker says — is DY-NO-MITE!
— Roderick Kabel

Grant Wood revisited

Year after year, I’m astounded to see the new ways Grant Wood has shaped America’s vision of the Midwestern landscape. His view of Iowa will forever be the quintessential visual reference to our way of life here.

This month, Emily Grosvenor writes about the many places to see Wood’s lasting legacy. Trips to Eldon, Anamosa, Stone City, and Cedar Rapids yield personal glimpses into Wood’s life — something that not many of us can say we’ve experienced. However, each year, Wood enthusiasts make the pilgrimage to these ‘shrines,’ keeping Wood at the forefront of the art world, and remembered as one of art history’s masters.

One location I will personally trek to is Wood’s Cedar Rapids studio, 5 Turner Alley. Close to downtown Cedar Rapids, 5 Turner Alley is owned and operated by the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which houses the world’s largest collection of his works. The studio, which has been under renovation since February 2006, is more than just a place Wood lived. It was in this studio that Wood painted one of the world’s most famous works of art — American Gothic.

There, one can peer out the very same windows he did — though the view has changed dramatically over the years — and get a sense of what it may have been like to be him. Many artists can identify with this feeling as they sit in their own studios, brooding over the next brush stroke, or pondering the meaning of life.

Imagine, just imagine, the what-ifs: will art fans make the pilgrimage to your studio? Will they pass through your town to see what all the excitement is about?

Thanks for reading.
Roderick Kabel