Arts Scene Leads to Economic Development, Talent Attraction in DSM USA

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park

By Jay Byers, CEO, Greater Des Moines Partnership

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then imagine the value of a community full of arts and culture. There are concrete ways leaders in communities of any size can band together and create a scene that attracts talent, contributes to economic vibrancy and improves the quality of life for all who live there and visit.

Greater Des Moines (DSM) was recently named the #10 Most Arts-Vibrant Community for communities with a population of 100,000 to 1 million people, according to the Arts Vibrancy Index compiled by SMU’s National Center for Arts Research. This is an exciting recognition for our region, and it highlights what those of us living here already know: Des Moines is experiencing tremendous momentum in terms of the arts.

In June, Bravo Greater Des Moines, a regional collaboration of 17 partner local governments that provides sustainable funding to arts, culture and heritage organizations, announced that arts and culture in the region provide $185 million in economic impact each year, and that there are 5,677 full-time equivalent jobs employed in the sector. This shows that the arts provide a formidable industry of significant impact on the regional economy.

Beyond the measurable economic impact, the arts and culture scene in Des Moines significantly adds to the vibrancy of the region. Attracting talent is an important part of our economic development strategy. Prospective talent considers quality of life amenities when determining whether to take a job in a community. In Des Moines, they will find a robust and growing arts and culture scene:

  • The Des Moines Arts Festival® draws thousands of people to Downtown Des Moines each June and has been named the Best Festival in the World by the International Festivals & Events Association for the past three years.
  • The Des Moines Art Center has more than 5,000 works of art, including more than 4,000 works on paper, comprised of 20th- and 21st-century works of modern and contemporary art as well as styles and cultures including the Renaissance, Impressionism, post-Impressionism and 18th-and 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints. Thanks in part to the generous corporate support, the center offers free admission.
  • The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park features 28 works of art by 22 of the world’s most celebrated artists. Its presence in Downtown Des Moines is the result of a generous gift by philanthropists John and Mary Pappajohn.
  • Des Moines is home to a robust music and entertainment scene. The Civic Center draws world-class Broadway shows. Wells Fargo Arena hosts the top traveling musicians in the world, and many venues throughout the region host touring and local musicians. Major music festivals such as the 80/35 Music Festival and the Hinterland Music Festival bring in national acts and thousands of attendees.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Our community has fully embraced the arts, and the nation is taking notice. One of the key ingredients to the “secret sauce” that has made Des Moines so successful is our corporate leadership, and those leaders have stepped up in a big way in their support of the arts. In fact, Americans for the Arts wrote an essay on our region in 2015 that highlighted how partnerships between businesses and the arts have boosted the appeal of companies in Des Moines in ways that help them attract and retain top talent. The essay said, “If you’re looking for an example of a city where companies have banded together to embrace the idea of using arts and culture to attract and retain talent — particularly young talent — you need to look no further than Des Moines.”

What a great testament! Business, civic and community leaders in Des Moines have embraced the arts as a talent attraction and retention tool, and it is paying off. The latest U.S. Census Bureau numbers show that Des Moines is the fastest-growing metro in the Midwest. In fact, our region’s fastest-growing demographic is in the 25-34-year-old age range.

For those who visit or are looking to move, the arts and culture scene provides an attraction. For those of us who live here, it provides an attachment. The arts and culture scene is a big part of Des Moines’ momentum, and we invite you to experience it for yourself. Learn more about Des Moines at