This summer, NPR's Destination Art series went off the beaten path to visit small to mid-sized North American cities that have cultivated lively arts scenes. We asked you, our NPR audience, to tell us about your favorite art towns. Several visitors and residents wrote in to recommend Fairfield, Iowa.
What's it like in Fairfield?
"Fairfield, Iowa, is a thriving arts community more or less in the middle of nowhere. In a small town of less than 10,000, we're busting at the seams with artists of all kinds: painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers, poets. ... There's a freeing attitude that art belongs to everyone, and everyone can be an artist. What follows are often surprisingly impressive hidden talents coming to light to the delight of the whole community." — Michael Halley, broker, Danaher Oil Company, member of the Fairfield City Council, Fairfield, Iowa
"For the past decade, [Fairfield] has held a First Friday Art Walk every month. Rain or shine, snow or sleet, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people come from all over the region to tour the local art galleries and celebrate community in the town square. ... The community is open and accepting of people of all interests and artistic bents. The city government helps to promote and support the monthly event and supplies some funding for entertainers to perform in the gazebo in the center of the square." -- Philip Scott, sales, Scott+Cooner Inc., part-time Transcendental Meditation teacher, Dallas, Texas
"Fairfield is an immigration success story. Almost 40 years ago, the Maharishi International University bought the old Parson's College campus and inspired an influx of ... people from all over the world to move to town. Newcomers from large cities, different cultures and progressive ambitions have transformed the cultural scene here to resemble more a place like Boulder, Laguna Beach and other metropolitan areas with many more resources. ... Our reputation everywhere is of a progressive, creative arts mecca nestled into/onto a lovely, typical Midwestern town. Our cost of living is conducive to both struggling or professional artists." -- Holly Moore, artist, Fairfield, Iowa
"Fairfield, Iowa, is like many towns in the Midwest with the cute little town square, reminiscent of a scene out of The Music Man. And it is also unlike any town anywhere else in the world that I am aware of ... the creativity is astounding and abounding. Not only is there an art gallery on every corner, an Art Walk the first Friday of every month, and a Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts — which is pretty amazing for a town with about 10,000 people — but there are also some of the most creative companies in the world headquartered in Fairfield." -- Nancy Green, Wind Energy Consultant, Fairfield, Iowa
A perfect day in Fairfield?
"Start with a cup of roasted-on-site coffee at Cafe Paradiso, and enjoy the floor-to-ceiling Lynn Durham mural while the barista tidies up from the world-class jazz concert held there the night before. Move out onto the square and enjoy the dozen summer art installations on the square, featuring different artists' concepts on the humble mailbox (previous years featured chairs, birdhouses and dress forms.) Then view some of the mosaic, painted and wood-carved murals dotting the walking alleys.
"Enjoy a hike on our 17-mile Jefferson County Trail System that circles the town and see the NEA-funded art on a footbridge over the railroad tracks featuring ceramic tiles by high-school students depicting the century-old Loudon Machinery Co. .... Then enjoy lunch in one of our amazing artisan restaurants ... and soak in the painting exhibit on the walls.
"That night, enjoy Fairfield 1st Fridays Art Walk — the first Friday of EVERY month of the year, rain, snow or shine, and featuring various themes — dance, film festival, sculpture, etc. — throughout the year. ... There will be a concert on the square and King Lear playing at the [Stephen] Sondheim [Center for the Performing Arts] that night as well as a dance troupe performing Indian dance at one of the many ballroom spaces in town.
"Toss some coins into a street busker's cello case as you head toward the town square lawn to visit the booths of regional craft vendors. End the evening with a nightcap of locally crafted wine and head to bed in your art-laden room at one of our charming B&B's in a century-old house." -- Holly Moore, artist, Fairfield, Iowa