Educational Art Experiences for Kids in the Iowa City Area

Being an art teacher and a local artist, I see the positive effects that art education can have on a growing mind. Whether it be through visual or performing arts, experiences with art encourage our brains to develop in a creative and inspiring way, increasing problem solving skills and success in many areas of our lives.

However, elementary and middle school students are only exposed to the arts a small portion of the school week during a scheduled music and art classroom. In high school, it is completely optional for students to sign up for one of these classes as an elective. Many of the classes are only a semester long, so they aren’t even receiving a full year of arts-based education.

My daughter, like many other children, is more interested in art-based extracurriculars versus (do I dare say it?) sports. Music, dance, and art are areas that she not only enjoys but does exceptionally well in. Many moms that are looking for art-related activities often have a difficult time finding activities geared towards enhancing their children’s knowledge of arts. A search online often times comes up empty-handed.

Due to this, I want to take the time to help other art enthusiast parents in the Corridor area with information pertaining to events that are coming up that focus on the areas of visual and performing arts. These locations and events foster creative thought in children and also allow them to see into the world of an artist.

Downtown Iowa City Gallery Walk

This event takes place three Friday nights a year from 5 – 8 p.m. The next one will be taking place on March 4th. It is a self-guided walking tour of about 17 locations in Iowa City’s Old Capitol Cultural District. Download the punchcard on the Iowa City Downtown District’s webpage with the galleries and addresses represented. This is a family-friendly event, and each venue offers refreshments and hors d’oeuvres. What a great way for kids to see the amazing ongoing artwork created in their community!

Want to make it more interactive? Consider some of these options:

  • Turn it into a scavenger hunt:

Have your kids look for certain items in the artwork and keep tally. At the end of the night, reward them with frozen yogurt from Orange Leaf. Use this simple pdf for your scavenger hunt, or you can create your own to fit the needs of your child. Does your child like taking photographs? Adapt the scavenger hunt option by having your child take photos of the items on their list versus circling or checking them off.

  • Let your child lead:

Allow them to choose which galleries to visit versus attending them all.

  • Add some food or entertainment:

Add to your gallery walk by stopping for dinner, dessert, or even a movie at FilmScene. Keep it along the trail so you don’t have to drive from location to location.

The University of Iowa Art Museum

The museum itself is free and open to the public and encourages parents to bring children. During different times they have student gallery attendants that help out with private tours. If desired, parents can schedule a tour in advance that can be geared towards a particular age.

They also have two gallery spaces that are located on the 3rd floor of the Iowa Memorial Union. Starting January 28th, the UIMA@IMU Visual Classroom will be reopening to feature a variety of works of the permanent collection. Perfect for looking at on your own time.  

Printmaking with the University of Iowa at the CRMA

A fun and creative activity to do while touring the museum is to have your child pick out one of their famous works of art and try to recreate it with a drawing of their own. Bring a notebook, sketchbook, loose leaf paper, and crayons. Art students do it all the time! I even did it in Florence when I saw Michelangelo’s David.

Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art offers a fun activity called the Off-The-Wall Art Box. This allows you and your children to look at the artwork in the museum while creating art of your own. It also includes fun and educational activities while learning about the work in specific exhibitions. Each box is free and can be checked out at the visitor center. Once your child completes their box, they can fill out a response card to receive a prize! What kid doesn’t like a free prize?

I’m also quite fond of the old-fashioned cigarette vending machine that dispenses small artifacts of the art in the gallery. I believe it’s a $5.00 fee, but it’s something original and unique that can’t be found at the store. When you’re done, take the time to visit Grant Wood’s Studio. Kids get to read about the famous artist and actually see where the iconic American Gothic was painted!

Lastly, check out their events page for a variety of art-related activities, such as pajama story time and Doodlebugs for the younger kids.

Playing with the Off the Wall Box in the Printmaking exhibit at the CRMA

The Ceramic Center in Cedar Rapids

As a teacher in the Cedar Rapids School District, I have worked with the Ceramic Center for years. They offer a variety of activities for kids to experience the wonderful world of 3D art. They offer summer camps that teach a variety of types of ceramic arts and warm glass. If you are looking for something now, they offer Saturday classes twice a month with family workshops and a three hour wheel-throwing class once a month called, “Wheel Try It.” To find out more on upcoming dates please check out their website (linked above). I highly recommend following frequently though, because their workshops sell out fast–they are so amazing and fun!

Public Space One

This is a gem that many are not aware of unless they are part of the Iowa City art scene. Public Space One is an artist-run, non-profit arts organization that “aims to provide an independent, innovative, diverse, and inclusive space for making and present art, cultural educational opportunities, and advocate for the importance of art in everyday life”. I had the pleasure of working with them when I participated in Benchmarks 2015, and they are a wonderful organization.

Like many of the museums and galleries in the corridor area, their events are kid friendly. They have a gallery with regular exhibitions and love it when families come to explore and visit. Of course, not all artwork is suitable for children; for this reason Public Space One always states so on their website so check before attending. Right now they have a temporary project space called Near Future that is open on Fridays and Saturdays until March 3rd. This event will be hosting kids workshops that focus on the arts of the future.

For teens, The Iowa City Press Co-op also has regular workshops. Their instructors can provide private or small group printmaking and book arts instruction upon request. This would be amazing for birthday parties or get togethers! Lastly, further-out to the summer, they offer weeklong camps that combine writing and art in collaboration with the Iowa Youth Writing Project.

Screen Printing at the CRMA

FilmScene’s Bijou Horizons

Have teens interested in film? Check out FilmScene’s Bijou Horizons. FilmScene and Bijou offer a free-of-charge series that offers free or reduced-cost screenings for University of Iowa, Kirkwood, and area high school students. These students can buy a student membership for $25. This will allow them to view the latest new releases as well as special events at a lower ticket price. They will receive concession discounts as well.

Bijou is a student-run organization that brings American independent, foreign, and classic cinema to students. Like children’s classics? This past month they showed The Neverending Story and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. They are always showing fantastic older classics that are geared towards the young in age and at heart. While you’re waiting for your popcorn and soda, you can also view their rotating gallery in their lounge. This area features exhibitions of local photographers that vary from month to month.

Enjoy exploring art with your children in our creative community! 


Mary, a native of Rockford, Illinois, attended DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois where she received her BA in Secondary Art Education. In 2007, she moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa after accepting a position as a high school visual arts teacher with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She and her husband, Collin, who is a teacher in the Iowa City Community School District, reside in Cedar Rapids with their daughters, Zoey and Munroe. Zoey is five and Munroe will be turning one in October 2016. In addition to being a full time mommy, full time teacher, and writer for the mom’s blog, she is also a professional artist who has shown and published works both nationally and internationally. Mary enjoys traveling, painting, and most of all, spending time with her family.


  1. I love this post so much! Thank you! I would also add that United Action for Youth, a youth center in downtown Iowa City, offers free visual arts workshops every week for teens ages 12-18. Workshops tend to lean toward the “nontraditional” – everything from “Painting with your feet” (offered this Friday) to “Paper Chandeliers” to ‘Screen Printing 101.” The Youth Center also features a free music recording studio with music lessons available. Check it out and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions! Thanks again for your article!! Mickey *319-338-7518 or [email protected]


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