Quarterly sidewalk parade ‘Joy March’ spreads messages of positivity

The Joy March is a colorful, unique parade in downtown Iowa City that “weaponizes delight” by having participants dress up in three-dimensional costumes and use noise-making devices to spread positivity.


Gabby Drees

Bubbles surround participants of the Joy March in Iowa City Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Every four months, community members come together to celebrate and spread joy in unique costumes.

Anaka Sanders, Arts Reporter

Be Bold, Be Silly, Be Present — that’s the motto for the colorful and unique quarterly sidewalk parade, Joy March.

The Joy March was an idea conceptualized through Public Space One amid the pandemic, toward the end of 2020. Public Space One is a contemporary art center in Iowa City that is artist and community-led.

Jenny Gringer, a printmaking artist at Public Space One who also works in psychiatry research at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said everything seemed dark at that time, because they hadn’t been able to get together and work on collaborative projects like they did pre-pandemic.

Gringer posed the question: “Wouldn’t it be fun to just make giant cardboard heads and march right downtown for like 30, minutes?”

So, in January of 2021, she and her friends at Public Space One made their way down North Gilbert Street for the first-ever Joy March, donning three-dimensional costumes with music playing loudly in the background from homemade instruments and boomboxes.

The goal of the march is to “weaponize delight” and focus on what’s good in the world, rather than solely dwelling on negative current events.

This Saturday, April 2, the group is hosting their second Joy March of 2022 with hopes of nicer weather than this past winter, though the current forecast predicts April showers.

The rain will not stop the Joy March, as nothing will stop them from going outside to celebrate, according to the Joy March website. Everyone is invited to join in on the march — sometimes, they even pass by spectators who join the parade themselves.

“Just let yourself let loose. I want everyone to feel like they can come out and try to spread joy,” Emily Jalinsky, a printmaking artist in Iowa city, said. “I always love it when we cross the street and there’s a couple people there — their faces light up seeing us.”

For Jalinsky, seeing the often-extravagant costumes that everyone creates is her favorite part. She said she hand-crafts her own costumes as well.

For this particular Joy March, she took inspiration from the season of spring and her daughter, who came up with the idea to wear floral dresses. Jalinsky said the three-year-old was unsure of partaking in the last march, but is now excited and ready to go for Saturday.

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Jalinsky is also making a flower crown out of affirmation cards, with a goal to portray personal joy and sustainment.

“It says on there – ‘I am happy. I am inspiring. I am aware. I am resilient,’” Jalinsky said. “But this is just the start, a lot of us tend to make things the week before.”

Following that, Sayuri Hemann, an artist living and working in Iowa City, has yet to start designing her costume, but she does have a spring-themed idea — birds.

At the last march in January, Hemann created and wore a giant green and orange polka-dotted, spherical paper mâché mushroom head with a fur rug wrapped around her for warmth.

A landmark on the Joy March’s path is Hemann’s colorful mural called Coexist that she and United Action for Youth painted in 2018. The mural is located overlooking the old US Bank Parking lot that has since been fenced off from the public.

Joy March participants would stop and dance in front of the mural, marking the hallway spot of the parade. Now, they still dance, just on the adjacent sidewalk instead of directly by the mural.

“It’s always fun to dance in front of it, it feels like we’re part of the joyful landscape,” Hemann said.

Ultimately, Gringer said the Joy March is a unique event that was created to give a scheduled break to everyone going about stressful or serious everyday lives.

“Just let go of all the things we hold onto, all the seriousness that we use to conduct our lives, all the responsibilities we must maintain,” Gringer said. “Just take a break for 30 minutes and do something fun.”