116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Bright-colored tutus and art made from a pittance. Giant cardboard heads and giant dressed kittens.
Indigo goddesses and doilies deployed — these are a few things that bring these folks joy.
Welcome to the Joy March, a quarterly parade of artists, free spirits and anyone who wants to spread the powerful effects of uninhibited joy for 30 minutes around the streets of Iowa City.
Started on Inauguration Day in January 2021 by a group at Public Space ONE (PS1), the march every three months was borne out of the darkness of the pandemic, social unrest and political turmoil. With each gathering, the Joy March has made a point of weaponizing joy in an act of “guerrilla joyfare.” Every three months, new community members from near and far come together to make a scene that draws attention.
“It gives me an opportunity every three months to forget about the news, forget about everything else and focus on creating this weird experience and doing something I wouldn’t normally do,” said Jenny Gringer, one of the founders of the Joy March. “(It’s) using (joy) as a way to liberate other people to have permission to be free and engaged. … It’s a hard time to feel joyful.”
What started as a small group making a distraction has since grown to an average size of two or three dozen people both from Iowa City and other parts of Iowa and surrounding states. This month, a group came from Oskaloosa. Previous events have seen groups come from Madison and Des Moines for an event that’s shorter than their drove over.
Each participant, whether they’re wearing a custom-made costume or civilian clothing, is “an artist in their own right” taking the opportunity to experiment with new mediums.
But that artistry isn’t on display just to look pretty — it’s there to energize and empower. Here, joy isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling — it’s a tool to secure freedom.
“Making a public spectacle is liberating,” Gringer said. “I’ve got to light a light in this world. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m going to do something light.”
What: Joy March
When: 1 p.m. Sept. 11.
Where: Starts in front of the Public Space One building, 229 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City
Details: Anyone is welcome to watch or participate. The theme for September is planned to match the tone set by “Prompt for the Planet: Community Creates,” a showcase at The Englert Theatre. Responding to poet Amanda Gorman’s prompt, the eco-cabaret will feature dancers, musicians and poets teaching simple ways to be environmentally friendly.
For more information: PublicSpaceOne.com
Emily Jalinsky, the usual grand marshal of the parade, usually leads soldiers of happiness dressed in her “Goddess Dadaist” costume, a fantasy of indigo appliqued fabric and doilies inspired by the Dadaism movement of the 1920s that responded to war and social unrest.
Keeping a beat, she encourages any type of noisemakers to accompany a simple refrain. As pedestrians gawk and pull out their phones to take videos, she leads with one word: “Joy!”
“We need to become aware of the importance of keeping joy alive, despite more trauma that we experience as we (age,)” Jalinsky said. “This is why I make art — it’s because of the hardships that we need to keep showing up and finding joy and art and music in the absurdity.”
To her, joy means feeling free to be happy, no matter what’s going on around her. After struggling with some medical conditions since age 13, finding a balance that keeps her at peace is something that has become increasingly important.
Through camaraderie built on the range of eccentricities presented at each march, she taps into her sense of childlike awe as she brings her own creativity and marvels at other creations. When the print maker and mixed media artist finds joy, she wants to spread it to others, too.
Inspiration from the tradition still going strong has led to some unusual creations. This year, Amber Morris, an education program manager for the Iowa Children’s Museum, made a sparkly parody of a pop idol who brings her joy.
In a giant cardboard head, she sometimes marches through the streets as one of her favorite drag queens, Katya Zamolodchidkova. Accompanying her is another giant head that resembles Trixie Mattel, Katya’s co-star from “Rupaul’s Drag Race.”
Inspired by Wayne White, a painter and puppeteer known for the props he made for Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the gigantic but silent heads took months to create with cardboard, fabric, the inner-workings of hula hoops and lots of hot glue.
At 5-foot-5, the giant heads obscure most of Morris’ body, down to the knees, as she navigates the streets with partial vision through two eye holes. Creations like these reinvigorate her passion as an artist.
“It’s just a nice excuse to make something,” she said. “Sometimes, I need a deadline. With joy, you can’t really argue with that.”
At 40, the Iowa City resident defines joy as a contagious form of happiness that transforms her when she puts the head on. After the anticipation builds during the informal parade staging, she spreads the burst of happiness that accumulates quickly.
“You kind of become a different person. You can dance around maybe a little freer than you did before,” Morris said.
With a sense of community as big as the puppets and heads, the march gives participants the chance to be part of something bigger than the sum of their parts.
Comments: (319) 398-8340; email@example.com