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This year's Iowa Pop Art Festival is its biggest yet

Odd Pets performing at TeeHee's Comedy Club in Des Moines
Lucius Pham
Des Moines band Odd Pets is one of nine musical acts performing at this year's Iowa Pop Art Festival.

Without plans for this weekend? Consider visiting Cedar Rapids for the Iowa Pop Art Fest, which is free and will be showcasing the work of more than 120 artists.

The annual festival, which only just began in May 2021, will highlight local talent from all over the state at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 6, 2023.

Iowa Pop Art has expanded significantly over the past few years, and this year, it will feature vendors in and around NewBo City Market, a nonprofit small business incubator bazaar, and the gallery inside CSPS Hall. Outdoors, festival organizers have curated a stellar lineup of Iowa musicians including: Alyx Rush, Bouquet, Juliano Dock, Maaaze, Penny Peach, Pictoria Vark, Odd Pets, Riley Mobz and Soultru.

The 2023 Iowa Pop Art Festival Poster, which features over 120 artists
Iowa Pop Art Festival
The 2023 Iowa Pop Art Festival will take place on May 6 and feature over 120 artists and musicians.

“We want this year to be the year that puts us on the map,” festival organizer Shiara Nivana said. “We’re putting in the hard work to make it so that the community, not just in Cedar Rapids but all around Iowa, wants to come to this event. We want this to be the event that kicks off spring and summer.”

A dedicated group of Iowa creatives have been collaborating over Instagram to organize the Iowa Pop Art Festival. This collective includes Nivana, as well as Jamila Johnson, Claire Thoele, Emma Walker, Emma Conroy, Bea Lowen, Jesse Coughlin, Linda Voight and Joule Aisling Nathanial. The group is led by Niq Thomas, who started the festival in 2021.

“This year, there’s over 120 artists and nine bands, and all of them have ties directly to the state of Iowa. We don’t get that in a lot of other festivals that go around, which I think is really neat,” Nivana said.

The visual art component of the festival includes an exhibition at CSPS called “Good Business,” which will run in CSPS’ art gallery until June 16. Nivana also had a long list of artists she was excited to see at Iowa Pop Art, including illustrator Bridget Maria, textile artist Ashlee Mooney, jeweler Zoe Harmsen of Hapless Handmade, and more.

“This festival is also bringing aspects of hip-hop and rap into it, and that's not something I see a lot within Iowa festivals,” Nivana said. “A lot of [Iowa festivals] lean more towards the indie rock scene. And this one kind of has indie rock, but it also has rap, hip-hop and some post-rock, emo type stuff too. So, it's really all across the board.”

R & B and hip-hop fans can anticipate free performances from Iowa artists Alyx Rush, Juliano Dock and Riley Mobz. For those favoring post-rock and emo sounds, local bands Bouquet and Odd Pets are sure to be crowd-pleasers. Local favorites Maaaze, Penny Peach and Soultru have also made the docket, but Nivana is especially excited to see Pictoria Vark.

“[Vark] just went on tour with La Dispute which was like one of my favorite bands growing up and was just super influential. So, the fact that like she just got to tour with them was really nice and really cool to see someone from Iowa going around the country with one of my favorite bands,” she said.

The Iowa Pop Art Festival has a website that features links to the many artists’ Instagram pages, and it maintains its own Instagram where festival-goers can check out the lineup and bios of the artists they’ll be seeing on May 6.

Cece Mitchell is an award-winning Music Producer, host and writer for Iowa Public Radio Studio One. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Northern Iowa. Mitchell has worked for over five years to bring the best AAA music to IPR's audience, and is always hunting for the hidden gems in the Iowa music scene that you should know about!