artABILITY is a family-friendly, multidisciplinary arts event at the Iowa State Fair that recognizes, embraces, and celebrates artists of all ages with disabilities. The 11-day event (August 10 – 20, 2017) is fully accessible to Iowans of all ages and abilities.

What is Metro Arts artABILITY?

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    Metro Arts artABILITY is a signature program of Metro Arts Alliance.

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    Formerly known as “The Governor’s VSA Arts Festival”, the Metro Arts artABILITY program has been part of the Iowa State Fair for more than 30 years and is one of the largest events of its kind in the country, drawing as many as 250,000 participants in a single season.

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    The family-friendly arts event at the Fair recognizes and celebrates artists of all ages with disabilities.

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    The 11-day event is fully accessible and includes:

    1. Exhibitions and demonstrations by visual artists with disabilities curated through Iowa county fairs and the community at-large
    2. Hands-on activities for participants of all abilities.
    3. Collaborate art project created by participants of all ages and abilities

Metro Arts artABILITY provides an unparalleled opportunity to celebrate the artist in everyone, and recognizes people with disabilities making valuable contributions to our community.

2016 ArtABILITY Sponsored in Part by

Metro Arts artABILITY Carnival

is a fun-filled carnival for kids of all ages, with carnival and circus-themed games and make & take art activities! It’s amazing, it’s interactive and there’s even a photo opportunity! So come and join us at Fun Forest. “This is where the FUN begins…and here is what we have planned for you:

Full Face Painting

Full Face Painting

The Brede bunch of face painters.

Circus-themed Games

Circus-themed Games

Win fun prizes!

Make & Take Art Activities

Make & Take Art Activities

Provided by artABILITY partner organizations serving Iowans with disabilities and at-risk conditions.

Make the Magic Willow Grow- A special collaborative art project Commissioned by Metro Arts artABILITY.

Designed and led by John Brommel

John Brommel is an artist with a disability.  He has works in private collections in Iowa as well as numerous other states. His sculpture “Love Lifts Lives” is on permanent installation at the Miracle League Ball Park across from Principal Park. He also has a huge sculpture at 2501 Bell Avenue for the Plumbers local 33, as well as numerous pieces in in city parks across central Iowa.

The Magical Willow Tree is a pounded textured weeping willow, with the fibers of the branches moving in the wind and creating a very magical feeling.  The tree symbolizes our humanity that we are all a part of one family…or tree.  All the different nationalities, diversities, abilities, disabilities, ages, talents, all one family growing together and it’s our differences that makes this tree beautiful.

John created the tree to be in Fun Forest so that fairgoers of all ages and abilities could help it grow with their own unique pieces!  Thousands of butterflies of light aluminum can be painted, pounded, etched, etc. by the children and grownups alike. The butterflies are then attached to spirals going up and out of the tree symbolizing great things that can happen when we have open minds and that all good things come from hope as we see these beautiful, individual butterflies being created to cover the tree with their message of possibilities!

Artist statement:
“My art is a never ending journey of discovery and invention.  I avidly recycle and repurpose material, drawing from diverse technical genres, searching out new and innovative applications.  I greatly enjoy the interplay of energies and ideas in the execution of commissioned works.  The work ethic and sense of efficiency practiced in my 35 years as a steamfitter are invaluable in the execution of my work.”
“My art expresses oneness and balance through the creation of Earth’s artifacts formed by fire, wind and water.” — John Brommel

Metro Arts artABILITY Exhibition & Demonstrations

Metro Arts artABILITY Exhibition is on the first floor of the Cultural Center featuring artwork created by visual artists of all ages, with a disability, who live and create in Iowa. Exhibiting artists are selected by county fairs, with two art pieces by one artist per county.

While the county selection has priority, the exhibition also features a body of work curated from the public “at-large”. Artwork in this group is selected by the artABILITY Exhibition Superintendent and representatives from the Metro Arts artABILITY Committee.

Exhibit Location: 1st Floor, Cultural Center
9:00am- 9:00pm Daily

Demonstration Location: 1st Floor, Cultural Center

10:00am- 3:00pm Daily
3:00pm- 8:00pm Daily

Demonstrating artists will have their work on display and available for sale.

Fun Forest

** All performances at Fun Forest will be ASL interpreted**

Performances 11:00 AM – 4:30 PM Daily

10:00 AM Kids Club (week days only)
11:00 AM Steve Brogan and Co. Comic Ventriloquist
11:30 AM The Chipper Experience
12:00 PM Ricky Smith Metro Arts artABILITY
“The Silence that Speaks Louder than Words”

1:00 PM Steve Brogan and Co. Comic Ventriloquist
1:30 PM The Chipper Experience
2:00 PM Ricky Smith Metro Arts artABILITY
“The Silence that Speaks Louder than Words”

3:00 PM Steve Brogan and Co. Comic Ventriloquist
3:30 PM The Chipper Experience
4:00 PM Ricky Smith Metro Arts artABILITY
“The Silence that Speaks Louder than Words”

Ricky Smith has delighted audiences around the world for over 38 years as a professional mime. He was a student of Marcel Marceau and has appeared on “The Today Show”, “Good Morning America” and “Real People”. Follow him as he takes you in a world where “Silence speaks louder than words!” He will be the headliner Fun Forest all 11 days of the fair.

Other Stages

45-minute performance slots on all stages

Aug. 11

Metro Arts artABILITY presents
Gateway Dance Theatre @ Mid American 11:00 AM and Knapp 2:00 PM

Since 1972, Gateway Dance Theatre has been moving to the rhythms of the world, fusing African-American, Caribbean, Asian and Indian music and movement into a multimedia experience for people of all ages and backgrounds. Gateway Dance Theatre is an urban arts multifaceted program to provide quality arts programming. Music, drama, visual and literary arts are presented with an emphasis on building self-esteem, discipline, awareness and confidence.

Aug. 12 and 16

Metro Arts artABILITY presents
Stutterin’ Jimmy @ Mid American 11:00 AM and Bud Light 2:00 PM,
16th @ Mid American 10:00 AM and Knapp 2:00 PM

Jim Enos has coped with a debilitating stutter since the age of five. As a child, he found his love for music in his church’s Sunday School program, but was too self-conscious of his speech impediment to participate in its musical activities. His first opportunity to express himself musically was during a performance with his school choir at age 11. He describes the experience as a “spiritual awakening,” but his vulnerability left him traumatized. As he struggled fitting in with social interaction, he started using drugs and booze to cope. He would spend the next 17 years of his life battling drug and alcohol abuse. Having overcome his addiction (seven years clean and sober!) he has learned to use music to express himself in ways that his words cannot.

Aug. 13 and 14

Metro Arts artABILITY presents
Denise Shipler @ Mid American 9:30 AM and Mid American 1:00 PM
14th @ Mid American 10:00 AM and Mid American 3:00 PM

Showcasing her range of talent from Country and Gospel to R&B, Pop and Rock’n Roll, Denise Shipler has released two albums and an EP (Extended Play) of five motivational and inspirational tracks. She is a regularly featured performer at the Variety Children’s Charity telethon and also has entertained internationally with Variety. A perennial fair favorite, fans ask again and again when Denise will arrive. We are sure that if you have never experienced her talent, you will become a life long fan!

Aug. 15

Metro Arts artABILITY presents
Concentro Agnorum @ Bud Light 10:00 AM and Bud Light 2:00 PM

Hear ye! Hear ye! Follow Concentio Agnorum and step into the age of Chivalry and Knights. Come share the music beloved by Kings and Queens. Enjoy thoughtful and humorous insight into the early music genre, and release your inner Prince or Princess! Billie and James Jones educate their audiences in the music of the Renaissance time. through fun and laughter. Gather around; fun will be had by all ages.

Aug. 17

Metro Arts artABILITY presents
To Shorten the Road @ Mid American 10:00 AM and Knapp 2:00 PM

Together Maureen Korty and Frank Strong make up the band To Shorten the Road. Frank is a train and railroad enthusiast, so many of his folk songs include education about trains and railroads. When he is not performing Frank works as the Director of Programs at the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living in Des Moines, a non-profit agency serving people with disabilities.

Aug. 18 and 19

Metro Arts artABILITY presents
Heath Alan and Justin Appel @ Mid American 10:00 AM and Knapp 1:30 PM 19th @ Mid American 10:00 AM and Knapp @ 1:00 PM

Justin Appel and Heath Alan are two of Iowa’s most sought after musicians, each with an impressive list of studio and live performance credits with many of Iowa’s most revered musical acts. As a duet, they produce a sound that amazes audiences with musical depth, beauty and a healthy sense of humor. The duo also actively participates in disability advocacy programs, working regularly with Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services, VSA Iowa and Iowa Youth Leadership Forum. (The picture above is of Heath Alan.

Aug. 20 and 21

Metro Arts artABILITY presents
New Visions Dance @ Bud Light 10:00 AM and Bud Light 1:30 PM. 21st @ Knapp 11:00 AM and Mid American 3:00 PM

New Visions Dance Company was created in 1993 by professional dance instructor Janice Baker. Through movement and dance, pictures of creativity, challenge and success are embodied in each and every step. From lighthearted to serious, there is something for everyone. This is truly “dancing from the heart!”


The program (formerly known as “The Governor’s VSA Arts Festival”) has been part of the Fair for more than 30 years and has grown to one of the largest events of its kind in the country, drawing as many as 250,000 participants in a single season. When VSA Iowa no longer had the resources to produce the event this year, the Fair and Metro Arts Alliance of Greater Des Moines joined forces to step in and ensure the continuation of this unique and valuable community arts event.

The project has three primary goals:

  • To inspire involvement in the arts among people with disabilities who do not participate, particularly children
  • To help professional Iowa artists with disabilities advance their careers through the performance, exhibition, and sale of their art
  • To increase public awareness of the abilities and talents that people with disabilities possess

Festival Coordinators

Kim Poam-Logan at 515-280-3222 or email
Gwynne Burke at 515-321-5159 or email at

upcoming artABILITY events

No upcoming events are currently scheduled

event photos

get in touch with us

Metro Arts Alliance of Greater Des Moines
3209 Ingersoll Ave. Suite 208, Des Moines, IA 50312


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