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Creating a Community Masterpiece at the Des Moines Arts Festival

Every summer, premier artists from around the world arrive in downtown Des Moines’ Western Gateway Park for the Des Moines Arts Festival. As a signature arts and culture event in Iowa, the festival gives people of all ages a chance to embrace the arts. Through the years, the community—including the Principal Financial Group®—has also embraced the festival.

Beginning in 1958 as an Art in the Park event with just a few hundred visitors, the Des Moines Arts Festival now sees its annual attendance exceed 200,000 people.

Volunteers at the Des Moines Arts Festival

The Principal® is a long-time patron of the Des Moines Arts Festival and a presenter of the Emerging Iowa Artists Program — helping young artists promote their talents and sell their work.

Mary O’Keefe, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at The Principal says, “The Principal and our employees have supported the Arts Festival for many years, and one of the things we’ve really enjoyed being a part of is the emerging artists exhibit. We came up with the ‘Paint the Skywalk’ idea to bring together our sponsorship of the festival, our interest in emerging artists and community participation.”

Paint the Skywalk: A Team Effort

In 2012, we partnered with the Arts Festival and emerging artist Abby Butson, a Grand View University student in Des Moines, to create a 500-tile reproduction of one of her paintings to be on permanent display in the Des Moines skywalk. The Paint the Skywalk event combined the innovation of an emerging Iowa artist with community efforts to beautify the downtown skywalk system.

Hundreds of attendees visited our booth during the festival and used pastels to color individual tiles that would later be placed together to create the final piece of artwork. The final mural contained 500 tiles and measured nearly 10 feet x 13 feet. Learn more about the project and watch the artwork being installed — tile by tile.

“Having sponsors like The Principal means everything,” says Stephen King, executive director of the Des Moines Arts Festival. “We can’t produce a festival of this magnitude—and keep it free—without support from organizations like The Principal. They’re the reason why it happens, because they appreciate the impact the arts have on quality of life.”

In 2013, the partnership is with emerging artist Abigail Cooper for an even larger mural. “This year’s mural is 840 panels,” explains King, “and will end up being about seven feet high and 32 feet wide.”

To learn more about the Des Moines Arts Festival, visit

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