National Wildlife Refuge System

Make Music, Art, Nature Part of Your Program

Iowa artist Michael Wilson displayed his paintings of bison at Neal Smith Refuge during the Friends first evening of music,art and outdoor activities.
Credit: Michael Wilson

Iowa artist Michael Wilson imagined an evening of painting, stargazing, fancy hors d’oeuvres and an orchestra concert, all under the prairie sky of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge Friends group was sold – and the first Concert on the Prairie was held on June 7.


Wilson wanted to display his painting of bison on the refuge. He had friends in the Des Moines Community Orchestra and the Des Moines Astronomical Society and a sympathetic ear among the Friends of Neal Smith Refuge. So was born the first Concert on the Prairie, featuring guided prairie walks, an art sale, and an outdoor concert followed by stargazing. Former Congressman and refuge namesake Neal Smith welcomed people to what Friends president Joan van Gorp hopes will become an annual event.


Getting Your Name Out There
Some of the proceeds from Wilson’s art sales will go to the Friends and profit from ticket sales will help update visitor center exhibits, although van Gorp says the group is not planning to be profitable this first year. “We need to get our name out there. We invited corporations, foundations and others whom we could approach later. ”


The evening included a tour of land adjacent to the refuge, recently purchased by the Friends and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. This Heritage Addition is the only unchanneled portion of Walnut Creek and should eventually become part of the refuge, says van Gorp. Until then, it is the site of an Iowa wine tasting – included in the $50 event ticket.


Wilson, who is seeking grants to become an artist-in-residence at the refuge, provided much of the energy to organize and promote the event. The biggest challenge for Friends, says van Gorp, was advertising affordably.  That meant a lot of flyers, postcards and social media, and a little local paid advertising.

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Last updated: June 17, 2013