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Des Moines Wants to Be the Affordable City for Artists

As Iowa’s capital city grows, its creative class has a pitch to artists in pricer cities: We’re creative, we’re affordable, and you can help us stay that way.
Artist Molly Spain works in her fourth-floor studio at Mainframe Studios in Des Moines, Iowa.
Artist Molly Spain works in her fourth-floor studio at Mainframe Studios in Des Moines, Iowa.Paige Peterson/Courtesy of Mainframe Studios

Ask someone to name U.S. cities with booming creative scenes and they’re likely to name the usual suspects: New York or L.A.; maybe Austin, Nashville, or Portland. One you probably won’t hear is Des Moines, Iowa—a state capital that has long been the realm of insurance workers and ag execs who flee the desolate city center after business hours.

But the city has been changing quickly over the past decade, posting the fastest population growth of any major metro in the Midwest in 2016, and 40 percent growth since 2007. In that time, the number of people living downtown has more than doubled. As the boom rolls on, the city’s creative boosters are on a quest to “create culture” by marketing their home as an option for creative entrepreneurs being priced out elsewhere—and to generally change the image you might have of the region. That might seem like a tall order, but the pitch can be distilled to a message many larger cities can’t credibly make anymore: We’re creative, we’re affordable, and you can help us stay that way.