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What’s next for Des Moines?


The Des Moines Social Club celebrated its first anniversary in its permanent home recently. Nearly 10,000 people showed up one night as part of that anniversary. The next day the organization’s impresario and visionary announced his resignation as director. It was a remarkably well-timed decision. Zach Mannheimer moved to Des Moines from New York City eight years ago and began selling his vision to conservative establishments that previously paid little heed to young folks from out east. He put together an astonishing number of funding sources to begin serving the city with upgraded live theater, circus, wrestling, magic shows, a historic culinary school, music and even pre-parties for Brittany Spears concerts. We asked Mannheimer last week what’s next, for him and the city.

“Strictly Modern” Alphabet Works by Robert Cottingham opening Thursday July 16 In Des Moines.

“Strictly Modern” Alphabet Works by Robert
Cottingham opening Thursday July 16 In Des Moines.

“I feel like we spent the last five years waving our arms around and announcing, ‘We’re here,’ ” he said. “Now I think we’ve arrived at a place where young people realize they don’t have to go elsewhere to feel part of artistic community. The danger is, and I see this happening, that we assume we’ve achieved more than we have. That we look at all the accolades the city receives from various media that call Des Moines a top place for young people, and that we stop trying to be something more.”

Mannheimer said that his top immediate goals are to persuade someone to support a city-wide busking program, build a skateboard park that attracts big-time events, expand rapid transit and find support for an art residency program akin to the Bemis Foundation’s in Omaha. He envisions a busking program modeled after New York City’s, where musicians and magicians audition for choice assigned venues. He said the Riverwalk needs such before people will flock there as hoped. The rapid transit goals include little things, like expanded hours of busses, and big things like bringing an Amtrak line from Chicago through Iowa City and Des Moines to Omaha.

“There is no reason we should not aspire to be much more than we are. I see the potential for Des Moines, in five or 10 years, to be as vibrant as Madison and Nashville are today. We already have the population and financial credentials to rival them. It’s a matter of will — to make the city into a more thriving place for arts and culture,” he said.

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He also thinks the time of feasibility studies must end.

“We have spent $10 million on such studies in the last eight years. We finance studies of studies,” he said. “It’s time to get things done.”

Other little things that need changing in Mannheimer’s vision are drinking fountains on city basketball courts, under-21 laws that prohibit teenagers from attending some concerts and financing a chef each year to present at James Beard House in New York City.

“Raygun got it right on Des Moines with their T-shirt that said, ‘Let us exceed your low expectations,’ ” he said.


Touts: Photo-realist painter Robert Cottingham will be featured in a show opening July 16 at Steven Vail Fine Arts. The exhibition “Empire” from his “Strictly Modern” alphabet series is a work on which the artist spent eight years. Many of these paintings and prints depict the architecture and commercial signage of downtown America from the 1940s and 1950s, things that have all but disappeared… Olson Larsen Gallery’s annual summer landscape show began last week and continues through Aug. 1. Featured this year are Pat Edwards, who moved to Des Moines with her visions of backyard life both rural and urban; the venerable John Preston, who concentrates this year on ecologically enlightening Des Moines River visions from Van Buren County; Dave Gordinier, who has moved his landscape point of view from Arizona to Nebraska; and the super-realist, black and white photographer Michael Johnson. CV


Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.

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