The Iowa Department of cultural affairs awards art project grant to RC&D to help make the 2020 northeast Iowa Artists’ studio tour virtual

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs notified Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) this week that their project Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour Reimagined was awarded IDCA Art Project Funding. Through the project, a partnership with Winneshiek County Development and Tourism, the RC&D will provide direct technical assistance to the Northeast Iowa Artist Studio Tour (NIAST) Board, NIAST Director, and artist members to turn the October 2020 Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour into a virtual tour.

The Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour (NIAST) has been organizing and implementing a driving tour for over twenty years with as many as 50 artists participating. It traditionally draws thousands of visitors to the region to visit art studios where the artists showcase and sell their art, teach different techniques, and answer questions about their media, their art, and their tools. NIAST Director, Darla Ellickson, noted that it has traditionally been a very personal experience. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic made opening studios to the public not only a risky endeavor but nearly impossible. Nearly 80% of the artists are considered “at-risk”. We want to protect them and the public but we also know that these artists rely on their NIAST sales. For some of the artists, the NIAST is the only event they participate in all year.”

This project was developed by Lora Friest, RC&D Executive Director Emeritus who said, “We know that some of these artist’s businesses have been hit extremely hard by the pandemic and we want to help them recover. The vast majority didn’t qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program and many of the events and galleries where they usually sell their art are cancelled or closed.” Friest will be helping artists film videos to use on the new website. The videos will introduce the artists to the visitor and then provide an opportunity for each artist to showcase their studio, techniques, and, in some cases, show the artist creating a specific piece of art.

Although the tour will not be a driving tour, Ellickson noted, “The enhanced virtual tour will reach more people and keep both the artists and visitors safe. The grant and the new partnerships with the RC&D and WCDT provide an opportunity for us to share our tools, techniques, and processes in a new way. Sometimes spending one-on-one time with the tour participants during the tour has been difficult when our studios are so busy. Therefore, the videos will be something we can use in 2020 and far into the future.”

Ms Friest, also a professional photographer, worked alongside the artists to gather video and photos.  “We are having so much fun!”shared Elea Uhl, a textile artist from Decorah, Iowa. “And truly, this tour is so important to many of us artists in Northeast Iowa.  The Tour is such a unique opportunity to not only sell our finished product, but to get the chance to interact with our customers on a personal level.  I’m so pleased we can still have the virtual tour and have found a way to still let people get to know us.  When Lora came to do my video, I just told my story – This is what I do, this is how I do it, and this is why I LOVE IT!”

Over two dozen stories like Elea’s were documented via video and photo on the Northeast Iowa Studio Tour Website.  “Even now, while things are so complicated you won’t miss out on the chance to get to know Jill Stephenson and her basket weaving techniques, or watch how fast George Lowe can “throw a pot” on his wheel, or admire Mary Ann Gloe’s gorgeous landscape paintings while she tells you about her work,” said Friest of the videos.  “With a touch of creativity, and the skills of RC&D videography editors, we’re excited to share these artists with the world and support the people who make our region a more interesting place.”

Videos will be hosted on the Northeast Iowa Artists Studio Tour webpage –