Off Hours: How to support artists, businesses in Des Moines while doing your holiday shopping

Off Hours: How to support artists, businesses in Des Moines while doing your holiday shopping Isaac Hamlet, Des Moines Register | 11/30/2022

By Isaac Hamlet, Des Moines Register

Good morning, Des Moines! I’m arts/entertainment reporter Isaac Hamlet and because of the people I talk to for my job, in a game of six degrees of Kevin Bacon (where I get to count an interview in lieu of a film), I'm at most three degrees away from Kevin Bacon. According to Google, that's the same number as Meryl Streep in 2019! (Read to the end to see how that breaks down.)

Welcome to Off Hours, a weekly newsletter on all things entertainment from the Des Moines Register, authored by reporters and occasional guest writers, that showcases all things fun you can do in central Iowa. If you sign up for our newsletter, you get to see this early Thursday morning in your inbox.

The Deal

Here’s the deal: The holiday season is upon us, bringing with us a slew of celebrations that are typically observed with some degree of gift giving. Sure, it could be easy to order friends and loved ones whatever they might have on their wish lists from the internet, but doing so could mean that you get your brother a second copy of "It Takes Two." Worse, you might be like me and get him a third copy of "It Takes Two," thus losing any opportunity for fun wordplay because of the error.

When possible over the past few years, I've tried to opt to shop from local businesses for gifts. Not only does this mean I'm often getting items that (I hope) come across as a bit more thoughtful, but it often also means I'm supporting small businesses.

This year, I thought I'd point Off Hours readers toward Des Moines' best-kept secret that isn't a secret at all: Mainframe Studios.

"People love shopping locally, but here, we're not importing. It's locally made, so it's doubly good," said Siobhan Spain, the nonprofit's director. "It doesn't get more local than Mainframe for Christmas shopping."

Mainframe Studios, located at 900 Keosauqua Way in Des Moines, is a workspace for dozens of locally based artists. From paintings to textiles to metallurgy to photography, you can find a little bit of everything at Mainframe. Great news for our sake and theirs, pretty much all of the art studios there have something on sale, meaning Mainframe stakes a claim to being home to more small businesses than anywhere else in the Des Moines metro.

On the first Friday of each month, Mainframe hosts an event called (three guesses) First Friday. The event opens the doors of the building to the public, allowing anyone who wants to wander around and talk to the artists who have their studios inside.

This coming Friday, Dec. 2, from 5 to 8 p.m. is Mainframe Studios' fourth annual ceramics invitational, meaning clay sculptures and pottery will be the focus of the event. Tangerine Food Co. will be serving food and the musical duo Pullin' Strings will provide live performance alongside harpist Pat Boddy in addition to the art on show, like J.K. Crockett's "Into the Glimmerwood" on the third floor.

Even if you can't clear out time for a First Friday, most of the Mainframe artists/businesses have websites where you can find their work, from The Red Door Press or fashion designer Gretchen Bohling or photographer Judith Eastburn.

I've got a few of the things I would typically try to snag some select family members for gifts as part of my "Top Three" but Mainframe itself has its own handy gift guide available online if you're looking for a wider selection. That said, the best way to check out what's at Mainframe to attend a First Friday for yourself.

I'm not the only one shopping there for the season, though. As you might expect, Siobhan has already picked up a few gifts for her family.

"I am a huge fan of Genevieve La Valles, she does the tufting and her sweatshirts are kind of amazing," she said. "I bought my daughter a sweatshirt as an early Christmas gift and she doesn't take it off. She loves it so much...

"There's so many great surprises that we have... Kyle Kirwan, he moved here from Brooklyn to be part of Mainframe and his designer toys are really weird and really great," she added. "They're all handmade and come in all sorts of forms... you're not going to get anything else like it."

When you visit Mainframe, tell me about some of your favorite First Friday finds at