You can help honor and support Iowa arts and culture this Friday, December 11, when the 9th -annual Celebrate Iowa Gala will be hosted virtually from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The state’s premier cultural celebration, presented by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs (IDCA), will offer guests once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to meet notable Iowans, watch an Iowa movie star add his handprints to the Wall of Fame at the State Historical Museum of Iowa, and enjoy musical performances at iconic Iowa venues, including the American Gothic House in Eldon and the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.
Cultural Affairs Director Chris Kramer says since this will be an online-only event, compared to prior years, they were able to record more on-site video features across the state.
“We also tried to really pair up unique performances. For example, we have the Brazilian 2wins, who have recorded a new original song at the American Gothic house, which is one of the state historic sites we oversee. So it was fun to really pair up some unique opportunities right now, and take people to those places, given there are so many restrictions right now in our arts and culture engagement this year.”
In the past, the gala has had many live performers and artists.
“People are really craving cultural experiences, and it’s difficult to portray all that virtually, but what we’ve tried to do is really present some unique performances and unique places, to give somebody a nice, relaxing evening to learn more about Iowa and watch a performance and be introduced to a performer they possibly haven’t seen before.”
The Friday program starts at 6 p.m. with a VIP reception, followed by a 7 p.m. showcase of Iowa culture and then an 8 p.m. cultural mixer, when guests will have a chance to enjoy live entertainment and participate in a few guided experiences. Highlights from the evening include a visit to the Donna Reed Center for the Performing Arts in Denison, a performance at the Art Church in Malvern, and a glimpse of the vast collection of Haitian artwork at the Waterloo Center for the Arts.
The evening will include reports about Iowa's best beverages and cuisine, including the Mississippi River Distilling Company (MRDC) in LeClaire.
During the 7 p.m. hour, MRDC owner/distiller Ryan Burchett will demonstrate how to make their popular “Buffalo Bill” cocktail, toast the event, and briefly explain the history of their business and location on the Mississippi River.
Kramer says the gala has always featured the best of Iowa in food and beverage – including the best burger, the best tenderloin, Maytag blue cheese, wines, and craft beers. Mississippi River Distilling has provided tastings at past galas.
“They’re important because they’re part of one of our cultural entertainment districts, in LeClaire and LeClaire is a great community that is demonstrating how our historic preservation culture – mixed in with really interesting small businesses, shopping, and things to do, live music, craft beer, and of course the distilled beverages – they really serve as a tourist attraction. To attract people to that community, and introduce people to Iowa.
“Once people fall in love with our wonderful towns and our culturally vibrant communities, they consider this also as a place to live.”
The “Buffalo Bill" is named after LeClaire's most famous son, Buffalo Bill Cody, and made with Cody Road Bourbon, Great River Maple Syrup from Garnavillo, Iowa and black walnut bitters.
The gala VIP reception will include a special feature on Iowa’s own Donna Reed, the beloved actress from Denison, including an interview with Reed’s daughter Mary Owen, who’s in the process of moving back to Iowa, and some of the performers she inspired through a workshop held in Denison each year. One of those is New York City-based Brandon Victor Dixon, who has been nominated for Tony, Emmy and Grammy awards. He has performed as Aaron Burr in “Hamilton” on Broadway.
The gala will feature a mix of live performances and pre-recorded segments, including from opera star Simon Estes, a native of Centerville, Iowa and internationally-acclaimed bass baritone and Iowa’s first Opera Hall of Fame inductee.
“We’re really fortunate to work with communities, and arts and culture, but also a lot of people who perform in these different venues, so we’ve gotten to know Simon over the many years he’s been performing and have tried to showcase his story in many different ways – coming from Centerville, and also being very inspiring to youth as they continue to pursue their careers.”
“He does a lot to give back to the community and to continue to mentor young people as they’re engaged in their careers. Simon Estes is certainly someone who’s done a lot for the performing arts here in Iowa.”
Film and TV star Tom Arnold continues to visit his family in Ottumwa. They did a segment with him at the “Hollywood in the Heartland” exhibit at the state Historical Museum, which has been back open since June, next to the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.
“On a Friday night in December, a lot of times people are usually off to events or live productions – ballet, performing arts, or Christmas parties, holiday parties. This year, we’re not able to do that, so people can enjoy this from the safety of their home, and we’re just really excited to be able to just remind people of all the great things that are going on here in Iowa.”
The gala usually raises about $100,000 – used for Iowa history educational programs and exhibits. They’re typically part of the mobile museum that travels the state, but was put on hiatus until 2021.
Proceeds from the Celebrate Iowa Gala provide essential support for statewide education initiatives and exhibits of the State Historical Society of Iowa and the State Historical Museum of Iowa -- including programs leading up to the 175th anniversary of Iowa statehood on Dec. 28, 2021.
The State Historical Society of Iowa (which is part of IDCA) is amplifying its virtual educational resources, online access to historical archives and new exhibit experiences for families, students, educators and lifelong learners.
“This year, definitely the demand has been there for virtual programs. We have been, over the last few years, ramping up our online resources and this is through our state Historical Society and state Historical Museum educator resources. We’ve got about 62 different educator tech sets available for teachers, parents and students. In the previous year, we’ve had about 50,000 downloads of the information, but this year, due to the demand now that everybody’s doing virtual learning, just since March we’ve had a half million downloads of that Iowa history educational content.”
Tickets are $25 per household for the 7 p.m. gala, $100 for the gala and cultural mixer, and $250 for an all-access pass for the whole evening. Sponsorships start at $500, which entitle sponsors to all-access passes plus recognition benefits.
For more details, visit Iowaculture.gov/gala. Links and login information for the event will be emailed. Email HistoricalGala@iowa.gov or call 515-216-3953 if you have questions.