Iowa is an icon of American heartland values. Its main-street towns and farmlands evoke a peaceful vision of America, where the drama of deep personal relationships quietly unfolds. But Iowa is also home to agribusiness, high-tech, and high-skill industries that manufacture computerized combines and fiber optics, and to high- quality service industries from education to insurance. Not without dynamic tensions and social, demographic, and occupational changes, Iowa in its sesquicentennial year of 1996 fostered and nurtured a quiet but steadfast civic pride that turned out whole towns for girls' basketball games, propelled youth into 4-H clubs and adults into volunteer fire companies and social clubs, and joined residents around a morning coffee table, on a Saturday night dance floor, or in a Sunday school.
Anyone who witnessed the great floods of 1993, who saw exhausted neighbor helping neighbor, cannot be unmoved by the prevailing sense of community held by the people of Iowa. This sense of community was celebrated by the Festival program on the Mall in the Nation's Capital, and was also evident back in Iowa for the first Festival of Iowa Folklife held on the grounds of the State Capitol Building in Des Moines in August, and in a Smithsonian Folkways recording, Iowa Public Television documentary, and educational materials growing from the Festival and distributed to Iowans in the months following the Festival.
The Sesquicentennial year offered a chance to recognize the value of an Iowa that nurtures neighborliness in groups of people - no matter how diverse - who share common concerns and hopes; an Iowa that supports the vital social fabric of relationships on the local level; and an Iowa that validates an underlying belief in the viability of democratic community - all of which have provided such a prominent legacy for the state.
The Festival program highlighted the vibrant and diverse cultures of Iowa through the excellence, knowledge, and artistry of its people and offered an opportunity to observe the dynamism of community in the truest sense of the word. The Festival program also recalled the responsibility all Americans have to believe that our public culture and its active celebration through community are valuable and must be supported, if we are to have a future worth living for.
Catherine Hiebert Kerst was Program Curator for the Smithsonian Institution and Rachelle H. Saltzman was Program Curator for the Iowa Arts Council; Arlene Reiniger served as Program Coordinator.
Iowa - Community Style was made possible by and was produced in cooperation with the Iowa Sesquicentennial Commission and the Iowa Arts Council on the occasion of Iowa's 150th anniversary of statehood. Iowa corporate partners included the HON INDUSTRIES Charitable Foundation; John Deere; The Principal Financial Group Foundation, Inc.; and Barr-Nunn Transportation, Inc.