The Des Moines Art Center in Des Moines, Iowa is a unique experience. Part museum, part sculpture garden, part art school, the facility is an environment for art education and appreciation. The Museum at the Center receives more than 20,000 visitors each year, with attendance at art classes topping 22,000.

As a not-for-profit institution, the mission of the Center is to engage diverse audiences with today’s art through the museum and school. The Center accomplishes this mission through a variety of events, classes, workshops, tours, talks and outreach programs each year.

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1.History & Architecture

History & Architecture
© Des Moines Art Center

The origins of the Des Moines Art Center date back to the turn of the twentieth century, when the Des Moines Fine Art Association operated out of the city’s Library Building. From 1916, the organization worked to champion the arts in the Des Moines area. After a sizeable donation from the trust of James D. Edmundson, the Center was able to begin drawing plans for its own building in 1943. Thus began the construction of the first of the museum’s architectural collection.

In addition to the permanent art collections retained within the Center, the buildings themselves are works of art. Three different architects worked on the designs for the museum. All three are renowned as some of the greatest names in twentieth century architecture. The original 1943 stone structure was designed by Eliel Saarinen. Adding on to this work, the 1968 addition was designed by I.M. Pei. Finally, in 1985, the final building was added to create an architectural trifecta, designed by architect Richard Meier. Together, they create a twentieth century masterpiece of architecture spanning several decades, materials and styles.

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2.Permanent Collection

Permanent Collection
© Des Moines Art Center

The Center’s Permanent Collection, with just over 5,000 works of art, is primarily comprised of works from the 19th and 20th century modern and contemporary styles. The collection also includes noteworthy pieces from other periods, including outstanding examples from the Impressionist and post-Impressionist periods, as well as Japanese woodblock prints dating from the 1700 and 1800s.

Particular highlights of the collection include works from Georgia O’Keefe, Jeff Koons, Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse and many more. Not only does the museum feature an abundance of work inside the architecturally significant walls, but also presents a robust collection outside, as well. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park showcases dozens of pieces for enjoyment and contemplation in the open air. Ranging from the massive and brightly colored to the simple and monochromatic, the collection is a walk through a graphical wonderland. With pieces from such artists as Yoshitomo Nara and Jaume Plensa, the Center’s sculpture garden is a visual adventure.


Exhibitions at the Center last from several weeks to several months, keeping the museum’s offerings fresh, new, and on the cutting edge of art. Such past exhibitions includes Arts & Letters, Graaaficaaa Itaaalianaaa, Halson & Warhol: Silver & Suede, Matisse: Jazz, and many, many more. Special tours and talks highlighting the changing exhibitions enable visitors to take full advantage of the temporary collections and create a more memorable and educational visit.


Education is a major focus of the Center, and classes, tours, and outreach are abundantly available to make the most of each visit. Art classes take place practically daily, throughout the day, accommodating different schedules, ages, and interests. Such classes for adults range from beginning drawing, to abstract painting, to digital images, just to scratch the surface. Children’s classes include the basic drawing and painting, to the whimsical Under the Sea to the comical, Everybody Wants to Make a Cat. Classes are grouped by age, with children’s classes spanning ages four to twelve.

In addition to classes, the Center offers other kinds of education, for those wanting a little less hands on art experience. In the guided tours of the Museum and Sculpture Park, docents guide visitors through the collections, as well as special exhibitions, providing expert insight and commentary on the works. Self-guided tours are also available, with audio commentary from the Center’s directors. In the sculpture garden, technology is the guide, with special features to allow guests to learn and explore right from their cell phones.

Art education is not confined within the boundaries of the grounds; however, with outreach programs bringing art into the community. The Des Moines Art Center partners with many local groups and after school programs to deliver art education to underserved areas. The goal of these outreach efforts is to inspire artistic expression in youth, as well as empowering them to recognize their unique abilities, qualities and attributes to build their self-worth. The Center also offers scholarships to assist those with financial need to access the classes provided on site, enabling more than 200 deserving students to participate each year.

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3.Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit
© Des Moines Art Center

A day at the Des Moines Art Center includes art, culture, creation, and exploration. Visitors can take a bit of this experience home with them by visiting the Museum shop, which is open during the museum hours. The Center is also planning to open a restaurant onsite in the near future to complete the experience. Located just a few miles from the heart of downtown Des Moines, the Center is easily accessible from freeways.

As hours vary between the Museum, the Sculpture Park and the Art School, visitors are recommended to check the Center’s website prior to making their visit. While there, the Center’s calendar will provide information on upcoming classes, workshops, and events to provide a more enriching experience at the center. The website also includes visitor policies, including information on rules of photography and allowable art materials on the premises. The Des Moines Art Center provides an enriching, enjoyable, educational, and entertaining artistic experience for all.


The Center has a full calendar of events and activities designed to bring art alive for its visitors. Gallery Talks feature docent led conversations about specific pieces in the collection. These talks are often combined with other engaging activities, such as the regularly-held Yoga + Gallery Talk, Artist Gallery Talk + Performance, or Baby + Me at the Park, just to identify a few. Guests can also head to the Center to catch a movie, with a variety of film events featuring titles such as Princess Bride, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Roman Holiday, or 2001: A space Odyssey. The Center’s Lecture Series covers a wide range of topics led by experts in their fields, from academics, to curators to the artists themselves. Not only does the Center offer a vast variety of ongoing events, but it also offers special events and performances to punctuate its regular line up. From musical performances, to the Center’s annual Gala, there is always something interesting to see and do at the Des Moines Art Center.

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4700 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa 50312, Phone: 515-277-4405

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Things to Do in Iowa: Des Moines Art Center