Des Moines Social Club

NLAPW Biennial Visual Arts in Des Moines: The Traditional and the Innovative

Gail Speckmann in the stairwell at The Des Moines Social Club.

By Gail Speckmann, Minnesota Branch

When I first learned that the NLAPW Biennial would be hosted in Des Moines, Iowa, I was overjoyed! This is the city where I grew up, and where I developed my artistic interests and sensibilities. The Des Moines Art Center, renowned for its creation by internationally known 20th century architects Eliel Saarinen, I. M. Pei, and Richard Meier, was always a presence in my life.

Laura Walth in the stairwell. Photo by Gail Speckmann.

Recently, I was in Des Moines and had a chance to connect with Laura Walth, president of the Des Moines Branch and Biennial chair. She was eager to show me the art venue for the event. We dropped by one evening at the Des Moines Social Club. This is a venue that was new to me, and I was in for a pleasant surprise!

Exterior entrance to The Des Moine Social Club. Photo by Gail Speckmann.



Interior entrance to The Des Moines Social Club with Capes Cafe and comic bookstore. Photo by Gail Speckmann.










The location spans two buildings and is in a renovated, historic, art deco firehouse, centrally located in the downtown area. Just outside the entrance was a colorfully painted piano, one of about a dozen placed around the city as part of “The Des Moines Public Piano Project.” Right next door is a stylish restaurant and bar with Pan-Latin dishes and cocktails.

Painted Piano just outside of The Des Moines Social Club with Downtown in the background. Photo by Gail Speckmann.



Upon entering the Des Moines Social Club, a lively variety of arts activities was evident. On the whimsical side, there is Capes Cafe, a coffee shop/comic-book store. There are high-ceiling, open spaces for seating and socializing.

Capes Cafe at The Des Moines Social Club. Photo by Gail Speckmann.








The Des Moines Social Club open spaces. Photo by Gail Speckmann.


This innovative space is home to a variety of arts activities including live music, poetry readings, and improvisations.

Gallery space for the 2018 Biennial at The Des Moines Social Club. Photo by Gail Speckmann.









Of special interest to me, of course, was the gallery space. There were freshly painted, stationary and movable walls awaiting the next exhibit. Well-lit with track lighting and natural light from the glass- block-window wall, it looked most inviting.

Even though I was eager to go away for college many years ago and find my way in the world, I would be very satisfied to live in Des Moines once again and am excited to have Pen Women get to know this vital city.

Register now: 49th Biennial Registration Form

Book your room at the Downtown Marriott: Group rate discount.