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Building Creative Connections One Stranger At A Time

by Valerie Van Horne on September 17, 2014

Caffeinated Show and Tell is September 20 at the Des Moines Social Club. 

After moving back to Des Moines from a 14 year hiatus, I found my hometown had changed significantly and in a good way.  The once lifeless downtown has gone through a metamorphosis, much like a caterpillar which has emerged into a beautiful butterfly.  Excited with the new developments, and the city’s embracement of art and culture, I knew my decision to return would not be a hard pill to swallow.


Julie Myers and Joann Schissel.  Julie sharing her method and meaning. (Source: Val Van Horne)

Being an artist, I longed for a way to connect with other creatives emerging in this renaissance of Des Moines.  I was referred to Meetup, the social networking site that facilitates offline group meetings. I attended a few dinner events and fell in love with the concept.  Finding no groups related to art and culture I created the River City Art and Music (RCAM) Meetup Group in January, 2014.

RCAM is a way for new or native residents with creative interests to connect with like minded individuals for inspiration, networking and socializing while enjoying a myriad of art and musical events in the Des Moines area.  We also get together on the 3rd Saturday of every month for an event called Caffeinated Show and Tell

On a recent Saturday, a small group of strangers gathered together over coffee to share and talk about their art.  Everyone is asked to bring something they’ve made: a photo, drawing, poem, craft, or idea to share.  Everyone is given the floor to share their work and get feedback from the group.  By the end of the meetup, a synergy is created from the shared ideas and inspiration. 


Jewelry and art quilt designed and handmade/stitched by Julie Myers. (Source: Val Van Horne)

I got to meet Julie Meyer, a musician of many instruments. She is also a fabric and jewelry artist whose work is a result of Shamanic Journeying.  She plays at Bluegrass festivals and writes song lyrics.  She shared her most recent art quilt entitled “Snake Medicine” finely handstitched and embellished with beads.


Debra Warden sharing her collage made with residents at the House of Mercy.  (Source: Val Van Horne)

Debra Warden is a collage artist and a Resident Counselor at the House of Mercy.  (House of Mercy is one of Iowa’s largest providers of transitional housing and clinical services for parenting women with addiction.) In the past, residents have enjoyed looking at Debra’s work that she brought in to share.  Because of their positive response to her work, we discussed the possibility and impact of having a non-profit that brought in local artists to do a workshops with the residents.  

Susan Smith, a downtown resident tired of looking at the dust settle on her art supplies, came to the cafe looking for inspiration. She participates in Des Moines Drummers and is thinking of using photography as a medium of expression.  Being an avid photographer, I shared details of my camera and opinions on creative software.

Joann Schissel, an independent contractor, designs websites and cares for pets through an agency.  She is active in CultureALL, a Des Moines based-non-profit organization that engages Iowans in learning about other world cultures. She also created the website for the storytelling guild, Two Rivers Story Spinners.  Schissel was the winning storyteller at two of the recent StoryMob events. She enjoys writing stories about her experiences in the Des Moines art and music scene.


Joann Schissel, Julie Myers, Valerie Van Horne, Susan Smith.  (Source: Val Van Horne)

There’s never an end time to these gatherings.  Everyone takes as much, or as little time as they need and it’s unknowingly understood when it’s time to leave.  Once strangers, now acquaintances, everyone leaves on a positive vibe and isn’t that how life should be?

For more information, or to to join our community, find us on the web at:

Following the September 11 attacks,’s co-founder Scott Heiferman publicly stated that the manner in which people in New York City came together in the aftermath of that traumatic event inspired him to use the Internet to make it easier for people to connect with strangers in their community.  As of April 2013, the company claims to have 13.4 million members in 196 countries and 125,247 groups.