Des Moines Arts and Culture: Live Music, Murals, Theater and More

image of people bowing on a stage at the end of a performance

Prepare to be surprised how truly jam-packed Greater Des Moines (DSM) is with arts and culture. Even the region’s public transportation is grounded in art-clad buses and bus shelters. Art is at the heart of it in DSM. 

Performing Arts and Theater in Des Moines

Living in DSM means you have access to world-class performances, right in your own backyard. Keep these companies and performance venues at the top of your list: 

Des Moines Performing Arts

Got your heart set on Broadway shows? The DSM theater scene will not disappoint. You’ll want to be in-the-know on what’s coming up at Des Moines Performing Arts. The annual Willis Broadway Series features national Broadway touring shows such as The Lion King, Hamilton, The Book of Mormon and SIX: The Musical — to name a few. Other theater series in Des Moines include family, comedy, dance and more with names such as Alton Brown, The Second City, Mannheim Steamroller and Dixie’s Tupperware Party. 

Ballet Des Moines

Ballet Des Moines is a resident ballet company that produces modern-forward, innovative performances rooted in the classics of ballet. They also offer numerous educational programs and their annual Nutcracker production invites community dancers ages five and up to audition for a role 

Des Moines Symphony

The Des Moines Symphony performs a regular series of Masterworks, pops, family and educational concerts that bring a premiere experience to DSM. Education is also at the core of the Symphony — it is one of only four American orchestras to sponsor an Academy of Music as a key part of its mission. And the Symphony’s annual Yankee Doodle Pops (complete with fireworks!) is a can’t miss Fourth of July event in DSM.  

Des Moines Metro Opera

A major American Summer Opera Festival, the Des Moines Metro Opera produces over 100 performances a year. The Opera exists to “create distinctive theatrical experiences and inspirational learning opportunities for artists and audiences” and supports internships, apprenticeships and community-based learning and experiences.  

Local Playhouses

Several communities offer local playhouses such as Des Moines, Ankeny and Newton. And you don’t have to just enjoy the theater from your seat — take the stage yourself and audition for a role in one of their many productions! 

Public Art: Murals, Sculptures and More in Des Moines

image of a sculptue park

It’s no secret DSM has heavily invested in public art throughout the region — evidenced by the sheer volume of beautiful local art sprinkled throughout the community. Just hop on your bike and leisurely navigate DSM’s trail system and you’ll no-doubt find vibrant murals, artful sculptures and perhaps a pop-up concert along the way. Care to see DSM’s public art showing off? Check these out: 

Still looking for a deeper dive into Des Moines’ public art? Find a robust list of public works from the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation

Des Moines Art from Local Artists

Creativity has a home in DSM, which contributes to the vibrant Des Moines art community. The region is home to Mainframe Studios, the largest nonprofit art building in the nation. Mainframe provides permanent, affordable studio space for artists in all mediums – from photography to printmaking, handblown glass to clothing design. In addition to fine and visual arts, the building hums with music , events (don’t miss the First Fridays) and workshops and classes. 

Des Moines Museums, Galleries and Exhibits

Museums? Check. Galleries? Check. Exhibits? Yep, we have those too! And we’re not talking about one or two art venues — poke around these dozen locations to get a small sampling of what DSM has to offer: 

Des Moines Live Music, Concerts and Comedy

Richly embedded in DSM is a mix of mainstream and underground music, which means a wide variety of live music options! Big name acts like Taylor Swift, Elton John, Carrie Underwood and Disturbed have taken the stage at Wells Fargo Arena and the Iowa State Fair Grandstand. Wooly’s and Val Air Ballroom each host a diverse and eclectic mix of artists with past names including Andrew McMahon, Grouplove and The Struts.  

Browse upcoming events at Hoyt Sherman Place and Prairie Meadows to find a few nationally known feel-good and favorite musicians spanning the generations, and Noce highlights local and regional jazz acts in Downtown DSM.  

Waukee will soon be home to a venue operated by the largest concert promoter in the U.S., Live Nation Entertainment, which will part of the KeeTown Loop entertainment district. 

Des Moines Comedy

If comedy piques your interest, catch a show or sign up for an open mic night at xBk Live or TeeHee’s Comedy Club. Both the Temple Comedy Series by Des Moines Performing Arts and Des Moines Funny Bone host premier comedians from around the country. 

Outdoor Music in Des Moines

an individual playing a horn instrument

Outdoor amphitheaters in West Des Moines, at Water Works Park near Downtown and in Riverview Park have each created community-centric event spaces that offer incredible opportunities to enjoy outdoor music and shows. Wineries, breweries and parks departments also present a wide array of outdoor music performances and other entertainment options (like Movies Under the Stars!) that make the most of summer days. 

Why Music Thrives in Greater Des Moines

National acts draw crowds, but local acts are more can’t-miss shows, too. You’ll find local acts in all kinds of genres and many local festivals and community events also include music line-ups.  

Organizations like the Des Moines Music Collation and Civic Music Association support the strong music scene in DSM. The Des Moines Music Collation is the force behind 80/35 Music Festival, Gross Domestic Product, youth programs, professional development and advocacy. The Civic Music Association is approaching 100 years in Greater DSM and brings world-class chamber and jazz music to the region. 

Des Moines Arts and Culture Brings Events and Festivals to Life

Out of DSM’s arts and culture scene comes a plethora of events and festivals driving home opportunities to experience, explore and discover something new. You’ll dive into global culture at World Food & Music Festival, CelebrAsian, Latino Heritage Festival, St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Pella’s Dutch heritage festival: Tulip Time. You’ll jam to big name bands at 80/35 Music Festival and Hinterland, plus local and regional acts at tons of small-town music events such as Bondu Blues and Brews. And again, at the heart of it is art! Many suburbs host community arts festivals including Indianola and Waukee, with the internationally acclaimed Des Moines Arts Festival® as the granddaddy of them all in drawing national, famed artists right here to DSM.