In 1992, the Dubuque Arts Council (DAC) started the Music in the Gardens concerts in the newly constructed Packard Pavilion at the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Since 1992, 165 groups have performed free concerts to weekly audiences of 1000 to 3,000 from Father’s Day through the end of July. Since 2013, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra has partnered with the Dubuque Arts Council for a free Pops Concert the last Sunday in June. The budget for these programs is approximately $15,000 for 7 performances. Additional funding of each concert series comes from business sponsorships and the collection of goodwill offerings from audience members.

“The Arts Council’s primary purpose has been to bring artists to the schools in this area,” explains Harriet Heitzman, a DAC board member of 34 years. “When I became a board member of the Dubuque Arts Council, we hadn’t started the Music in the Gardens. Our budget did not include housing for artists, so several members would open their home, sometimes for as long as two weeks at a time. What a pleasure and privilege to entertain Robert McDuffie, and his sister, Marjorie, Frieda Lee, and Bruce Davies, from Scotland, in my home.” Heitzman has also had the pleasure of meeting other notable artists, including Carol Wincenc and Joe Carter, Scott Allen, and Mrs. Meredith Wilson. “I’m looking forward to having Frieda Lee as a guest this summer when she performs at our Music in the Gardens.”

Dave Gable, another longtime DAC Board member, recalls, “Free concerts on Sunday evenings… it sounded like a good idea at the time, and remains a good idea today. Who would have thought 25 years later we would be able to still offer these family-orientated concerts at no charge?” Gable says it has been extremely rewarding to witness DAC’s programs grow. “Not only at the arboretum, but also in the classrooms of the schools that participate. We’ve gone from a concert series, using local musicians and crowds of 100, to now having both local and national artists performing to crowds and having the attendance going into the thousands.”

Mary Armstrong, an arts enthusiast, and Robert Armstrong, local actor and retired pastor, discovered the Music in the Gardens a couple of years ago. “A year or two before we moved here, we were in Dubuque on a Sunday evening,” says Mary. “We read about the concerts in the 365ink. We had no idea that Dubuque had an arboretum or where it was, but we bought a picnic blanket and followed our GPS. I don’t remember who was playing, but remember that it was a beautiful night, and we spread our blanket under a tree. We knew we would return.”

The concerts bring together all sorts of people and all ages. “People wander through the gardens before the concerts and during breaks, groups gather for large picnics. We have met some wonderful folks there and look forward to seeing friends,” says Mary. She also enjoys the variety of performances DAC brings to the Gardens. “There have been some wonderful groups over the years. The traditional favorites include Hunter Fuerste and His American Vintage Orchestra (we love watching people dance), the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra (particularly enjoyed Bob Byrne conducting and Nenad Bach’s performance). Groups like Endless Summer bring out some great dancers.”

Fred Krapfl, a retired engineer and his wife, Sharon, local watercolor artist, have been attending the Music in the Gardens since the beginning. Fred believes Music in the Gardens attracts people to area businesses with its quality entertainment and musicians from various parts of the region and country.

John B. Donovan, Julien’s Journal columnist and Executive Director of Dubuque Mercy Health Foundation, has attended nearly every concert since moving to Dubuque in 2008. “I attend for the music, a delightful night outside, and to meet up with friends and enjoy the experience together – wine, music, friends!” Donovan believes the DAC concert series is a central part of the Dubuque arts scene and perfect for those who enjoy outdoor music.

On June 18 and continuing through July 9th, the Dubuque Arts Council will present its 25th concert season of Music in the Gardens. With the support of local sponsors, the free Sunday evening concerts begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. For more information, visit

Editor’s note: Article supplied by the Dubuque Arts Council, edited by Julien’s Journal.


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