The Iowa Pop Art Fest brings music and more artists Saturday in Cedar Rapids for its third year

Iowa Pop Art Festival

NewBo City Market, Cedar Rapids, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, May 6, Free

Vendors set up tents and wares for customers to pursue at Iowa Pop Art Fest. — Courtesy of Niq Thomas

The Iowa Pop Art Festival returns to Cedar Rapids this Saturday for its third and biggest year yet.

Not only is this year’s showcase of Iowa visual artists presenting more artists than previous years (over 120), live music will be part of the festivities with a lineup including Penny Peach, MAAAZE, Soultru and more.

Saturday’s main event will be at the NewBo City Market and include an exhibition of artists’ work at CSPS. But those looking for more to do this weekend can catch a fashion show held at Eastbank Venue at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Saturday attendees will see artists selling original artwork from across genres and mediums alongside vintage vendors. After all, the Pop Art name came, in part, from an intent to create as wide a net as possible for the vendors.

“I think the idea of pop art is good, because like a lot of the artists that we have, you know, they’re referencing pop culture, but it’s also a lot of upcycling and sort of finding ways to make art, more affordable ways, environmentally friendly ways … I think that’s a very sort of pop mentality,” said Niq Thomas, the creator of the fest.

Thomas is originally from Independence, Iowa, and spent ten years living in Cedar Rapids. He currently lives in Venice, California, but still has a soft spot for in-state artists. His Iowa-first emphasis with Iowa Pop Art Fest was galvanized after he attended Des Moines Art fest for the first time in 2021.

“I’d never been, I guess I just assumed it was like, ‘Oh, this is like probably the best artists in Iowa or whatever,’” he said, recalling his visit to the annual central Iowa event. “When I got there and walked around, I was like, ‘Oh wait, there’s like, no Iowa artists …’ And I was like, offended by that. Big things aren’t really creating a platform for Iowa artists. So then that became sort of more motivation to have [the Pop Art fest].”

Thomas’ curation of his festival’s attending artists is rather personal. Not only does he usually pick them out himself, he tends to invite them via Instagram, a process that lets him forgo an application process. He’s been able to grow the selection of artists by relying on those he’s selected in past years to recommend other artists.

All of this leads to a varied spread of artists with its fair share of first-timers. This array ranges from DivineHelix – a vintage clothing upcycler with a goth-punk edge – and Maddy Fusco – a Des Moines-based artist with a vibrant, whimsical acrylic painting style – to Bearded Border, a Marion-based artist who works solely in the medium of Etch-A-Sketch.

Vendors and artists show off their wares at Iowa Pop Art Fest. — Courtesy of Niq Thomas

Thomas, himself a painter, has worked with fellow artists to make the festival happen: Jamila Johnson, Shiara Nivana, Claire Thoele, Emma Walker, Emma Conroy, Bea Lowe, Jesse Coughlin, Linda Voight and Joule Aisling Nathanial.

While the festival has sponsors for the first time this year, a large portion of the work has been entirely volunteer-based with an emphasis on low cost. The fest runs with low overhead and low booth fees, reducing the cost for individual artists and improving accessibility for first-timers and non-established artists.

“I think what motivates me is just knowing how difficult it is here, and just knowing how few opportunities are here,” Thomas said. “You get out [to California], and sort of expect to see almost better art, you know … There’s plenty of art that I have seen in Iowa that I think ‘Oh, boy, I wish I could do something like this in California.’”

Thomas’ hope for the future of Iowa Pop Art Fest is to find a way to bring it across the state with a series of events. One obstacle for artists, he noted, is that the current location of the fest means that artists who are in Des Moines or farther away, often can’t travel to the fest.

“[My dream] would be just to sort of do almost a summer tour … do four or five across the spring, summer and fall,” said Thomas, imagining each instance being held somewhere else in Iowa. “We can do it for very little. We just need friendly venues to focus on, that’s the key.”