Milestone honors past, points to future

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By Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Mary Cownie


In the tradition of iconic public buildings, the State Historical Building has served the people of Iowa for 25 years as a forum for cultural and civic engagement, a hub for hands-on education, and a one-of-a-kind destination for visitors and citizens alike to interact with the stories of Iowa.

It has welcomed presidents and politicians, advocates and enthusiasts and learners of all ages as the home to more than 100,000 artifacts in the collections of the State Historical Museum.

Today, Iowans will come together to mark 25 years to the day this landmark was first dedicated. But this milestone has been more than a quarter-century in the making and isn’t as much about bricks and mortar as it is about honoring the cultural legacy of Iowa and our role in preserving it for future generations.

Not unlike Iowa itself, the State Historical Building is more than the sum of its various parts. Most Iowans know it as the home to the State Historical Museum, which has been collecting, preserving, and exhibiting Iowa’s treasures since first opening its doors in the basement of the State Capitol 120 years ago. Some may remember it as the catalyst for the revitalization of a once-forgotten neighborhood east of the river in downtown Des Moines, recognized today as the hip, up-and-coming East Village. Many others may know the Historical Building as a favorite event destination.

But what all Iowans should take pride in knowing is the building is also home to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, which is charged with overseeing the state’s interest in the areas of arts, history and other cultural matters. The building houses the department’s two primary divisions, the State Historical Society of Iowa and the Iowa Arts Council. The building plays a pivotal role in not only the day-to-day functions of a state agency, but serves as a testament to our collective heritage, the ever-changing stories of Iowans and the quality of life we cultivate within our communities.

While this investment in Iowa’s quality of life can easily fly under the radar, it’s more visible than we may realize. Think of the points of pride on your itinerary as you greet newcomers to the state, welcome out-of-towners or recruit employees to your business. These points of pride include the local museums and historic landmarks that help tell the story of everyday Iowans, the one-of-a-kind festivals and events that dot our calendars throughout the year, the compelling works of public art that grace our neighborhoods, and the performing arts centers where the homegrown talent of Iowa share the spotlight with the world’s finest artists, musicians and entertainers.

The Department of Cultural Affairs helps ensure the sustainability of these organizations, projects and events through grant funding and technical assistance resources, leveraging the state’s investment on behalf of arts, history and culture in Iowa.

It goes without saying that the vibrant cultural fabric of our state represents thousands of jobs and the tireless efforts of community members, impassioned volunteers, and enthusiastic supporters who take pride in living out their individual stories in Iowa and giving character to the communities we call home. Like the neighbors down the street who invest in the upkeep of their property and subsequently add value to their neighborhood, investing in our cultural infrastructure does the same for Iowa, and the impact reverberates throughout the state and our economy.

As we pause today to celebrate one such destination and commemorate the 25th anniversary of the State Historical Building, we do so with an eye to the future while honoring our commitment to preserving the past.

Submitted by Iowa Gov.Terry Branstad and Department of Cultural Affairs Director Mary Cownie. Comments: or

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