Tour Director Darla Ellickson at workPlease consider becoming a sponsor/contributor to NIAST, Inc.
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Keeps the arts alive!

1996-2001 The Northeast Iowa Studio Studio Artists’ Tour had its start in 1996 when current executive director, Darla Ellickson, began discussing the idea with other professional area artists. In January of 1998, she mentioned her idea to Margaret Davis of the Decorah Regional Arts Council. As it turned out, in late Spring 1998, Margaret Davis was contacted by Rachelle Howe of the Country Heritage Community (CHC) of Postville, asking if Margaret would be willing to take over an “ArtsVenture” tour that had been proposed and outlined by Bev Strong of the Elgin Public Library and by others connected with the CHC. The “Arts Venture” idea involved a hands-on “make art as you go” approach. Noting the beginnings of a tour already in the planning stages by Ellickson, Davis as business manager for the Decorah Regional Arts Council (DRAC), who had been in contact with a number of NE Iowa artists, coordinated with Ellickson, local professional silversmith/goldsmith. Utilizing a background in graphic art, Ellickson created the first NIAST brochures (and continued to do so, as well as all other graphics for the Tour through its first 4 years and continues to produce the ads and posters).

Ellickson’s Studio Tour idea revolved more around the idea of experiencing a great many studios, especially those of the professional artists, on an independent basis, via a drive-yourself map, similar to already developed tours in Vermont, Wisconsin and Arkansas.

Along with other artists, she and her husband Glen spent a great many weekends traveling to juried fine art fairs in metropolitan locations, where they displayed and sold their creations, yet were relatively unknown in the Decorah area. While traveling to these art fairs, many customers expressed an interest in learning the processes behind the work. The Tour concept provided a format to coordinate a weekend when the majority of the professional artists were not doing shows and could remain in their studios. This allowed for viewing of a large number of studios, for both the out-of-town art patrons and to foster the appreciation of the arts in the immediate community as well. The added benefit was a format in which less-traveled, but very talented local artists, many also award-winning, have an opportunity to participate in the tour, and share their art with a knowledgeable, appreciative patron.

In coordinating the tour, she hoped to create an event where the general public has the opportunity to view artists studios that are not set up as retail venues, for a rare view into their creative workspaces to increase the appreciation, enjoyment and awareness of the high concentration of working studios and visual arts in Northeast Iowa, and have the option to purchase art directly from the many notable, award-winning touring artists located here.

Davis advised the CHC that she (acting on behalf of DRAC) and Ellickson would build on the core of artists that had been lined up by Bev Strong and would proceed ahead with the CHC’s “ArtVenture.” They would, however, call the event the Northeast Iowa Artists’ Open Studio Weekend (which name was modified in 1999).

As a result, the first Tour (1998) featured 22 artists at 15 studios/galleries (in Decorah, Burr Oak, Spillville, Castalia, and St. Lucas) and attracted slightly over 550 visitors (which number had increased to over 1200 by the year 2000). By 2001, the Tour had grown to 43 artists at 28 locations (Decorah, Burr Oak, Calmar, Clermont, Cresco, New Albin, Spillville/Ft. Akinson, and St. Lucas). NIAST 2003 features 36 artists at 28 locations, with fewer retail locations and more working studios than any of the previous 4 tours.

By the close of the year 2000, the combined NIASTs’ had drawn visitors from a total of 16 U.S. states and from Canada. The year-2000 Tour garnered coverage in the November 2000 issue of American Artist magazine; the year-2001 Tour, in Luther College’s May “Luther Alumni Magazine.” One or another of the Tours over the years have received publicity from TV, radio, tourism magazines, and other media sources.

The first two years’ Tours (1998, 1999) were supported in large part by the Country Heritage Community (and, through them, Silos & Smokestacks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the R. J. McElroy Foundation). NIAST 2000 was supported by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs; NIAST 2001, by the Iowa Arts Council. The formal “Arts Event” signs used beginning in 1999 were funded by the CHC, DRAC, and the City of Decorah Hotel/Motel Tax Committee. The latter entity, together with the Decorah Chamber of Commerce and the Winneshiek County Tourism office, also provided excellent cooperation and other in-kind support for NIAST 2001 through NIAST 2003.

NIAST 2002 brought a year of change.. The first four NIASTS were co-coordinated by Ellickson and Davis, and produced as an event of the Decorah Regional Arts Council (DRAC). As of NIAST 2002, DRAC no longer plays an active role in its formation, but continues to support the Tour however it can – financially as a sponsor, with enthusiasm, with in-kind contributions through the use of the arts event signs, by mentoring, etc.

NIAST 2003 is now organized by Tour originator, Ellickson, and her husband Glen, as co-directors, with volunteer input from the participating artists.

Other exciting new developments of NIAST 2003 included: the development and continuation of its own www.iowaarttour.com web-site; more member benefits for artist participants; increased local event planning to coincide during Tour-time (for more to do in Decorah while visiting our lovely area!); tour self-support due to funding via the sale of advertising in promotional literature; and the ability for the NIAST, Inc. organization to accept donations in the form of tax-deductible contributions through the Decorah Regional Arts Council (DRAC).

NIAST 2004 expanded with even more artists for a total of 48 at 35 locations. The tour included 3 artists displaying at the renovated historical Hotel Winneshiek in downtown Decorah. Also the possibilities of an Iron Casting Pour, and a father/daughter musical team with guitar and flute for live entertainment at one of our exhibiting artist locations.

NIAST 2005 featured the addition of live music at area dining establishments plus an Art Raffle at the Hotel Winneshiek., for a celebration of all the arts – both visual and performing..

NIAST 2006 features 49 Artists at 38 locations. An exciting addition to this years Tour is the Big Spring Panel Project, a walk through a stained glass/ sculpture installation on a ridge just north of Decorah. A number of historic buildings are also involved, the Hotel Winneshiek will feature 2 Artists in its ballroom, Vesterheim Museum hosts a photographer, Joyce Meyer, The Locust Schoolhouse features the work of Jean Young, one of the “Win Art” donors, plus the Historical Society hopes to have ongoing educational activities of the 1-room schoolhouse era.

A boon for the 2006 Tour was the addition of a major sponsor KDEC radio. The excellent coverage given to the Tour already by Decorah Newspapers, supporting the Tour immensely since its beginnings, and KDEC, as of 2006, informs the entire community of its visual wealth.

NIAST 2007 marks the most exhibiting Studio Tour Artists ever with 51 Artists at 37 locations. Additional support for the Tour was provided by the largest ever single individual contribution made by Big Timber Hardwoods, James & Nancy Ulring. This generous contribution made possible the printing of the Tour brochure in full-color plus additional promotional Tour advertising. Also awarded to the Studio Tour, through organization and cooperation with the Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development, Inc. was an $8000 grant, Therefore this Tour is funded, in part, by a grant for the Iowa Community Cultural Grant program administered by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

Due to the influx of support in 2007, plans are also underway to address the needs for more signage with a new design specific for the Studio Tour and the creation of many more signs to implement usage on the many scenic, curving roads of northeast Iowa.

NIAST, Inc, as part of support for all the Arts in Iowa also joined the Iowa Cultural Coalition, the statewide organization promoting and supporting the arts, preservation, and culture, www.iowaculturacoalition.org.

Artscene magazine, the premiere art magazine in Iowa is currently planning on including a story on the Studio Tour in a 2007 issue. Other planned promotional venues are KUNI, Big River Magazine, plus more Public Radio promotions.

NIAST 2008 improvements include the addition of 500 professionally printed posters and 4000 promotional postcards, “artfully” designed by Darla Ellickson, featuring a number of the participating Artists and their creations. These in addition to the 25,000 full-color brochures, once again designed by Julie Strom, further enhance the scope of Tour promotion.

2008 also marks the largest tour with the most Artists and locations ever with 56 Artists at 43 locations! Many are new to the area and some returning Artists have once again decided to exhibit after a hiatus. The brochure includes designation noting the large number of professional full-time Artists, and those with year-round display space, which is a unique cultural professional “Art” concentration in this scenic rural area, .

To aid the “Tour”ist in driving to the studios, further improvements planned are the addition of more detailed maps, plus 2 options of directions available. Directions and GPS coordinates in these two versions will be available as PDF downloads: (1) detailed in the order artists are listed, and (2) general from the nearest major intersection for the adventurous traveler who wishes to strike out on their own.

The 2008 Tour will be a featured event in “Itineraries Minnesota”, a magazine utilized by Tour directors. Call for a list of locations that are suitable for bus traffic.

NIAST 2009 Tour saw great crowds and similar to some even better to best sales for artists despite the downturn in the economy.

In NIAST 2010 the Studio Tour discovers Facebook. Newly elected board member Paula Brown introduces the Tour to Facebook, by setting up the site, inputting data, and coordinating Tour information and individual Artists photo albums, increasing Tour exposure to the popular current mass media outlet.

2010 also rings in national exposure again: The Studio Tour was featured prominently in the article “Cultural Tourism Plotting Art on the Map” in the national magazine “Art Calendar”, February 2010 about cultural tourism, including full-color images by Julie Strom of our beautiful NE iowa rivers and Jack Raddatz at work in his studio.

The impact on the community is upwards of $250,000 dollars,” says jewelry artist Darla Ellickson, under and executive director of the three-day self-guided tour. “People are always interested in how art is made. They can come here and get a real sense of what goes into the creation. The beauty of the area and the fall colors are a natural draw.”

The success of the Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour has inspired more communities in Iowa to begin using the arts to encourage tourism in their areas. Studio tours are now held annually in all four quadrants of the state. Without good marketing, grassroots efforts can die quickly.

Ellickson used her background in graphic art to create brochures for the first Northeast Iowa Studio Tour. Through the years, financial support at the local, regional and state levels have enabled organizers to broaden their marketing. “We send out 7,000 to 8,000 brochures in a mailing. That’s proven to be some of the most effective advertising,” notes Ellickson. “That, and a press packet with photos in a CD. We also send postcards with a PSA announcement to every radio and TV station in areas in iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. Other developments over the years have included an event Web site.

“by Contributing writer and communications consultant Ligaya Figueras. Another article is scheduled to print in the fall of 2010 in “The Iowan” magazine featuring the Tour. More information will be posted as events and happenings develop on the Events Listings web-page.

NIAST 2011 – 14 new Artists joined the Tour with 4 of those returning from exhibiting in the past. 2011 features 54 Artists at 40 locations. Updated maps this year now include the GPS coordinates for the Artists in the Tour brochure PLUS GPS and map locations have been added for the Advertisers and Sponsors to the downloadable PDFs. The bulk mail address list is now close to 9000 brochures directly mailed.

NIAST 2012 features 53 Artists at 43 locations. The website www.iowaarttour.com was completely revamped with the help of Trevor Huinker Solutions, with clean more modern graphics and the addition of google maps for both the Artists and Advertisers and a news section for Artist updates. With google maps the “Tour”ist can devise their own itinerary online and print their own directions.

NIAST 2013 introduces new “Events” listings on the website. Now any business with an event during the Tour in our area can promote it on the website. The 16th annual Tour includes 51 Artists at 39 locations. For more information to be listed and fees contact info@iowaarttour.com.

NIAST 2014 “Connect with Art at its roots in Scenic NE Iowa” features 50 artists at 36 locations will open their doors for a behind-the- scenes studio view not usually offered to the general public.

NIAST 2015 the Winneshiek County Convention and Visitors Bureau (WCCVB) recognized the impact of the Art Tour by presenting its Tourism Great Strides Award to the NIAST board. The NE Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour began in 1998 with 15 locations and has grown to feature 55 artists at 42 locations in 2015, with an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 visitors annually.

NIAST 2016 continues with the great tradition of viewing fine quality original art first-hand in the Artist’s studios now with 52 Artists at 40 locations. The bulk mailing list has grown to nearly 10,000 “Tour”ists who personally receive their annual brochures in the mail. The brochure can also be downloaded as letter-size PDF’s to print. Detailed directions are carefully updated each year just prior to the Tour to alert our visitors of any new construction issues.

A very exciting addition to this years tour is a Preview of some of the Artists latest work, in downtown Decorah at ArtHaus, running for a month prior to the Tour. Sample what the Tour has to offer and plan your adventure!


Please consider becoming a sponsor/contributor to NIAST, Inc.

Email for more information