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80/35 2019: Creativity is Alive in DSM

80/35 2019: Creativity is Alive in DSM

August 6, 2019

Everyone is an artist. Everyone. At a young age, each one of us picks up a crayon, or a paint brush or a toy guitar to find out how fulfilling and exciting it can be to create something, share it and watch people’s eyes light up at the thing you created. I also think everyone at some point in their life thought they were going to be an artist for a living, be it a writer, a musician, a painter, a dancer, whatever. They’re generally at an age where they understand they’ll have to be a grown-up, but don’t know what that actually means. Kids think that they can make a living in a tutu or smock or with a Fender strapped to their shoulder. It’s a big dream, but kids are big dreamers. With focus, talent and opportunity, there are ways to make a career out of art.

Compromise in the Midwest

There is also a point where 99% of us give up on that dream. We “grow out of it” or we are told that it isn’t a “real job” or we simply resign ourselves to some sort of abstract idea of not being “good enough.” Maybe we try, but we have to supplement our income and suddenly we are in our forties and 15 years into a human resources career and the idea of making art for a living was overtaken by just making a living. Suddenly, instead of being a poet, painter or bassist in a three-piece math rock band, we are getting a degree in business administration or computer programming or actuarial sciences, and we do that not because we love administrating business or the science of being an actuary, but because eventually it will lead to a “real” job, just like everyone else. Get a C++ certificate to live a C+ life. I think when dreams are pushed aside it’s easy to miss that feeling of creating, of putting pen to paper or brush to canvas and showing another person your vulnerability and creativity. It’s such a particular type of joy when your creation gets an approving look, but the need to create gets buried and compromised in a sea of spreadsheets, software and stand-up desks.

Compromise Doesn’t Have to Mean Giving Up

Now, there was art in Iowa in the 80s and 90s. It just seemed like we didn’t appreciate it like we should have. We hid it away in tiny clubs that had a hard time staying in business, DIY houses and rooms at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. We invested in chain restaurants, fast food and admittedly pretty delicious gas station pizza instead of cultivating local talent to make something new and unique. 

There was a desire and a need for homegrown art, though, and because of all of the places that laid the groundwork, the culinary and art scenes advanced, the music scene exploded with new festivals and events and suddenly being in Iowa didn’t mean you had to give up on your creativity or dreams. DSM, specifically, began to see talented new chefs and daring restaurants. Suddenly there were new designers and galleries. Creatives painted on walls, on streets and turned old buildings into daring restaurants. Picasso and Vivian Maier collections found their way to the Des Moines Art Center and Keith Haring and Yoshitomo Nara where kids scooped the loop. It meant Bi-Fi Records, The Envy Corps and Max Jury. It meant the Des Moines Social Club, Wooly’s, Gas Lamp, Lefty’s, Vaudeville Mews and amphitheaters on the rivers, Hinterland and 515 Alive. It meant 80/35.

Creativity in the 80/35 and DSM Communities

In 2019, we need 80/35 more than ever to remind us that creativity shouldn’t be ignored. We need it for entertainment and something to do. We need it to remind us that the compromise of living in Greater Des Moines (DSM) is becoming less and less daunting. It isn’t just an opportunity to see a band like Misterwives throw a party on a warm summer evening or watch Elle King’s still emerging talent headline under the umbrella of an increasingly corporate skyline. It’s a chance to reconnect with the younger version of you that still dreams of creating for a living. Watching the lyrical genius of Dessa, the passion and precision of Metric, the punk freedom of Dressy Bessy, the still lingering 90’s angst of Liz Phair, or Portugal. The Mangoing from playing in front of dozens a decade prior at House of Bricks to thousands as the Saturday headliner, there were multiple acts meant to entertain and to inspire. It is more than just entertainment. It lights a fire in us and drives us to create.

What 80/35 also provides is a creative work-life balance. Whether it be the veteran skills of The Other Brothers, Dickie or Left is West, ready to break out talent like Younger and Hex Girls, or someone like Markaus, a man determined to make his city an outpost of culture and empowerment, these acts all represent succeeding at creating music in Iowa. You don’t have to define yourself off of your career. You can be an artist and a claims adjuster. You can live, create, perform and showcase what really drives you. And you can do it in DSM.

80/35 is important because it helps drive a creative working class. It is the idea of not giving up on what matters to you and still chasing the dream we all carried at one point however you still can, because the idea of making art is what matters, regardless of where you spend your Monday through Friday.

What it means to live in DSM in the year 2019 is still a compromise. Whether you’re here because of the insurance industry or because you grew up here and wanted to raise a family, you don’t have to sacrifice your creative side. DSM is changing and 80/35 is a big reason for that.

For over a decade, one weekend each summer reminds us what it really means to be human, not just a human resources specialist or a loan document analyst. We strive to be surrounded by creativity and passion—and for one weekend we can. 

Named as the #13 Best Place to Live in the U.S. and #7 Best City for Living the American DreamGreater Des Moines (DSM) is the fastest growing metro in the Midwest. Learn more about what it’s like to live here.
Dave Murphy

Dave Murphy is a writer from Des Moines. He blogs about music and fatherhood at Iowaves Music.