Four Iowa cultural attractions receive Folk Arts Apprenticeship grants

    Four of Iowa's leading cultural tourism destinations that serve folk and traditional artists are getting a new boost from the Iowa Arts Council.

    The council has selected the Amana Heritage Society, Living History Farms in Urbandale, the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, and the Villages Folk School in Keosauqua to participate in its new Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program.

    Each organization will receive up to $5,000 in grant funds to develop an apprenticeship or residency program that encourages artists and cultural stewards to share their skills and knowledge in ways that sustain Iowa’s artistic traditions.

    Funding for the program comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. The NEA annually provides funding to Iowa, along with other arts councils in all 56 states and jurisdictional territories, to support folk and traditional arts across the United States.

    “This is a meaningful opportunity to preserve and share our cultural heritage with Iowans, especially those folk art traditions that require the passing on of specialized knowledge from one generation to another,” said David Schmitz, administrator of the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. “We congratulate our first four participants and thank the National Endowment for the Arts for its generous support.”

    The Iowa Arts Council launched the new apprenticeship opportunity this year after interviewing leaders of Iowa organizations that sustain folklife programming across the state. The council also looked at examples of similar programs in other states.

    This focus on apprenticeships augments other recent efforts to promote folk and traditional arts in Iowa. In 2020, for example, the Iowa Arts Council trained K-12 educators to incorporate folk and traditional arts learning resources into their curriculum. The following year, the council offered a program to help Iowa folk and traditional artists to reach new audiences online and adapt their practice to virtual platforms.

    Here are the four grant recipients:

    Amana Heritage Society (Amana)
    Artisans have been weaving traditional rag rugs in the Amanas for generations. Today, only three active rug weavers keep this once-thriving folk art alive – the fewest in Amana’s history. During the Amanas’ era of communal living (1855-1932) and the following decade, weavers in each of the seven villages created new rugs with wool and calico scraps from the local mills. Many weavers gave up their trade when carpet became more popular in the 1960s, though traditional weavers have continued to weave rugs for friends, neighbors and tourists. The new rag-rug weaving program will involve a program supervisor, master artist, and four apprentices who will come to the Amanas for a series of classes from now through June.

    National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library (Cedar Rapids)
    The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library will offer a workshop to teach a traditional Moravian painting technique, and the completed paintings will be displayed in an outdoor gallery. The grant will provide funding for an artist who specializes in Moravian ornamental artwork to paint 10 pieces of traditional art on specially treated wooden panels. The project aims to inspire others to learn about the colorful art from the central region of the Czech Republic.

    Villages Folk School (Keosauqua)
    The Villages Folk School's first artist-in-residence program, called Creative Escape, will bring together seasoned artisans and upcoming artists in a quaint, historic village, where they can unplug to expand their creative talents and preserve traditional art forms through hands-on learning. Participants will retreat to a cabin and studio along the Des Moines River in Van Buren County, which is part of a designated Iowa Great Place. The first Creative Escape residency begins in May and will focus on glass-blowing, for which the Villages Folk School has already opened a call for applications. In addition, rural Iowa folk artists will offer two-week mentorships in their personal studios for selected emerging artists.

    Living History Farms (Urbandale)
    Living History Farms has been demonstrating broom-making for visitors since 1979 and offering classes since the late 1990s. Now, to help sustain this tradition, Living History Farms will launch an 8-week program to train its staff and volunteers in the art of broom-making. Once they learn the technique from a veteran broom maker, staff and volunteers will offer classes of their own, as well as demonstrations for visitors and hands-on broom-making lessons for day campers.

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    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. 

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