By John Kenyon, Executive Director of Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature
The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization hosted the annual meeting of UNESCO Cities of Literature in April with two main goals in mind: to show off our area’s literary assets to our international visitors, and to emphasize the international importance of our designation to area residents.
What we didn’t know was that in accomplishing the first, we would prove that in some ways we already had accomplished the second.
During the first week of April, we hosted representatives from 23 of the other 27 UNESCO-designated Cities of Literature. Like Iowa City, these cities have been singled out by UNESCO for their strong literary heritage, their exemplary programming, and the promise of leveraging the designation to do even greater things in the future.
We showed off the best our area has to offer: We opened with a reception at Old Capitol, held meetings on the ACT campus and at the Iowa City Public Library, toured the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, met with staff from the International Writing Program, the Nonfiction Writing Program, and the Translation Workshop at the University of Iowa, dined at several amazing area restaurants, shopped at Prairie Lights and much more.
While these landmark sites and programs were suitably impressive, what our colleagues remarked about most was the way our designation seemed to be integrated into the community. Everywhere they turned, our guests were greeted by people who knew why they were here and made sure they had experienced our literary assets. They saw posters announcing and celebrating their visit. They saw light-pole banners touting our designation.
While it was tempting to take credit for all of this, the truth is, that is the kind of community we have here in the Iowa City area, and by extension, the Creative Corridor. While Iowans often are criticized for being too modest, here in the Corridor, we have learned about our assets, and then have learned to celebrate them.
Members of the arts community – many ICCA members among them – are as quick to note the success of a colleague or peer as they are their own. When one group has a need and another has a resource that meets it, the latter is offered to meet the former as a matter of course. We all become ambassadors for one another.
So while we benefit from those in our area espousing the virtues of our literary community to our guests, I may run into someone from a visiting theater group and be compelled to praise the likes of Riverside Theatre, Dreamwell, Starlighters, the University Department of Theatre Arts and on and on. That’s who we are, that’s what we do.