In summer, arts bloom


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As finals week piddles to a close, parents’ minivans and Megabuses make their way in and out of town, filled with the luggage of University of Iowa students. Residence halls empty out.

Tumbleweeds blow down down Clinton Street. And the 10 or 20 Iowa City residents left in town wander through the Pedestrian Mall like a small herd of zombies.

Despite what some, or many, undergraduate students might believe, Iowa City does not become a ghost town when the academic year ends. In many ways, the onset of summer brings a greater vitality to downtown as concerts, festivals, and tens of thousands of patrons fill the streets AT events hosted by the Summer of the Arts.

“Residents really like our events because they celebrate Iowa City,” said Lisa Barnes, the executive director of the Summer of the Arts. “There are fewer people over the summer, so it’s an opportunity to take a break and be reminded of all the things downtown has to offer, maybe reconnect with people you haven’t seen. It’s a social atmosphere for people who might not come together in other settings.”

Summer of the Arts hosts seven festivals — some as old as 30 years and others as new as 2 — throughout the summer, focusing on an array of artistic interests. All events are free and open to all.

“We really believe the arts aren’t something you have to pay for and should be accessible to everyone despite your socioeconomic status,” said Emily McMahon, the organization’s new development director. “There are lots of festivals you’d have to pay a ticket price to; we get a lot of phone calls asking where to get tickets, and we say, ‘It’s free.’ We’re lucky to have a city that supports our initiatives so much and a community that comes out to it.”

Because of city grants, donations, and local sponsors, Summer of the Arts is able to book both Iowa City artists and international stars. This year, the Indigo Girls, Anat Cohen, and Al Jarreau (a UI alum) are among the dozens of musical acts.

The scope of these free events present their own challenges for organizers. Around 400 volunteers are needed to set up stages, microphones, spaces for food carts, recycling stations, family booths, and numerous other tasks, while Summer of the Arts staff put in countless hours.

“There are a lot of challenges involved with what we do,” Barnes said. “The nice thing is if people come to a festival, and it seems seamless, we’ve done our job.”

This job — to provide a range of outdoor entertainment for people in and outside of Iowa City — is not done out of charity but a sense of obligation to the community and the arts.

“I was trying to think, what if there weren’t Summer of the Arts?” said Diana Lundell, the president of the Summer of the Arts Board of Directors. “What would Iowa City be?  It’s just so expected now I can’t imagine its not happening.

“I think it provides a really central gathering place for the bigger metropolitan area to get out of your house, hopefully in good weather (that’s the No. 1 prayer always), and spend time with neighbors, friends, people in nearby communities.”

Barnes shared a similar belief — and concern for the weather.

“I honestly feel like what we offer the community is so critically important,” she said. “It is a time when the community can come out after a terrible winter and enjoy the arts.”

Friday & Saturday Night Concert Series, Friday-Sept. 12

A sure-fire sign that summer has arrived in Iowa City — and, indeed, Summer of the Arts — is the sound of live music drifting through downtown on a Friday or Saturday evening.

The Pedestrian Mall Fountain Stage will host 20 different musical acts for the Friday Night Concert Series, including local favorites David Zollo and the Body Electric, the Beggarmen, FunkDaddies, and Kevin BF Burt. This year, the Saturday Night Concert Series will host acts on one Saturday per month.

The first of this season’s Friday Night Concerts — featuring local Steely Dan tribute band the Fez — will not only kick off the 23-year-old series but the Summer of the Arts at large.

“It’s one of the greatest things about living and playing in Iowa City, these outdoor concerts,” saxophonist Saul Lubaroff said, one of the group’s 15 members. “You get to reach your entire audience: grandparents, children, people just walking by, or people visiting town who might not want to go to a bar.”

Saturday will mark the first Saturday Night Concert and will feature the City High and West High Jazz Ensembles.

Summer of the Arts will team with the Iowa Pride Festival for its June 21 concert and the Iowa City Latino Festival on Aug. 16.

Free Movie Series, June 14-Aug. 21

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Summer of the Arts’ Free Movie Series, and organizers plan to pay homage to each successful year — with 10 more free, public movies.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” Barnes said. “To celebrate, we have 10 weeks of movies that tie into the number of the week … it’s just kind of fun and different.”

These numbered films start with Captain America: The First Avenger on June 14, then Despicable Me 2 the following Saturday, The Three Musketeers on the third, Fantastic Four the next, then Fast and Furious 6, Seven Years in Tibet, Super 8, 9, and finally, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days on Aug. 21.

The film screenings are held on the Pentacrest and start as soon as the Sun goes down. Audience members are welcome to bring lawn chairs, blankets, food, and families.

Arts Festival, June 6-8

One of Iowa City’s oldest and most beloved community events, the Iowa Arts Festival is in its 31st year, and it continues to expand.

“Longevity is really helpful,” McMahon said. “I think the festival just gets better and better because of the ability of the Summer of the Arts staff to keep it relevant to the audience.”

Some long-running traditions of Arts Fest have been maintained, including displayed works and demonstrations of more than 100 artists selected from across the country. There are also 12 musical performances, including the headlining Indigo Girls and folk band Barefoot Movement.

Over the years, festival staff have added a culinary row, beverage garden, Carnaval parade, and new artists’ pavilion, which caters to emerging high-school and college-age artists. These events will span three days and several downtown blocks.

MusicIC, June 18-21

Summer of the Arts’ only indoor festival is also one of its most eclectic, highlighting chamber music and literature from around the world.

MusicIC will feature four free concerts over four days, taking place at Trinity Episcopal Church, the Englert Theater, and the Iowa City Public Library. Performers include pianists, cellists, violinists, and vocalists from as far away as New York and Poland.

There will also be artists’ discussions and readings held throughout the festival.

Jazz Festival, July 3-5

Iowa City will celebrate the Fourth of July weekend in a distinctively American manner: with jazz. The Iowa City Jazz Festival will feature globetrotting jazz professionals on its main stage and up-and-coming performers on the college, youth, and local stages.

“The Jazz Fest committee did a good job not just of getting a mix of styles but jazz musicians from around the world,” Barnes said. “We have more female lead players than ever before.”

This year’s headlining acts include the Jared Gold Trio, Nordic Connect, the Anat Cohen Quartet, and Tom Harrell.

As with Arts Fest, there will also be a culinary row and beverage garden with local food and drink, as well as a FUN Zone with crafts, games, and snacks for kids. The final concert of Jazz Fest will lead into Iowa City’s July 4 fireworks show.

Soul Festival, Sept. 19-21

After a successful first year, Summer of the Arts’ Soul Fest will migrate to the Pentacrest this year with its lineup of funk, blues, soul, and African musicians.

Three of the Soul Fest’s premier acts — including Jarreau — are sponsored by Hancher.

“I think I’m most looking forward to Al Jarreau. He’s a national star,” Lundell said. “It’s very helpful for us when we can partner with the university or other folks in bringing big acts in.”

Hancher Programming Director Jacob Yarrow said the Buddy Guy concert at last year’s Soul Fest attracted thousands of people, encouraging the organizers to participate again — this year with the Ugandan artist Kinobe and pan-African/Latin group Conjunto Anglo 70.

“The African dance music adds a whole different thing to the festival,” Yarrow said.

Along with a children’s FUN Zone, culinary row, and beverage garden, a Marketplace has also been added to the event, featuring a variety of vendors. And on Sept. 21, an additional ticketed gospel brunch will also be held at the Sheraton Hotel, 210 S. Dubuque St.

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