The first Dubuquefest was held on September 28-30, 1979. An annual fall festival complete with ethnic foods, sidewalk shopping, arts and craft fair, and music, the celebration’s goal has been to emphasize Dubuque’s ethnic backgrounds including German, Greek, Irish and Jewish.
A seven-member Dubuquefest Committee co-chaired by Ruth Nash and Elisha Darlin researched the success of Nordic Fest in Decorah and the Minneapolis Renaissance Fair and Aquatenniel, before developing a format. Featuring local artists, the event lasted three days and drew approximately thirteen thousand visitors.
Activities included a special Dubuquefest Farmer’s Market and a grand parade from Jackson Park to Washington Park. The Dubuque County Historical Society sponsored a walking tour of the downtown area. There were tours of the E. B. Lyons Interpretive Center and Crystal Lake Cave. A German Biergarten was open on Saturday and Sunday from morning to night. Tours of Dubuque’s historical and natural sights were scheduled along with performances by local musical groups including the Flora Doras, Pat Tully’s Catalyst Kazoo Band, and the Dick Sturman Jazz Ensemble.
The final activity was an arts and crafts fair in Washington Park on Sunday. Organized as a tax-exempt, non-profit activity under the direction of the Dubuque Arts Society, Dubuquefest was supported by contributions from the Iowa Arts Council, the Dubuque City Council, and local businesses.
By 1988 the festival featured national and international talent. Crowds estimated to reach sixty thousand were expected to attend the five-day event. The presence of Dragon Boat Races created an international flavor for the event.
Also in 1988, Dubuquefest joined with Very Special Arts Festival, an organization whose goal is to showcase the talents of the physically and mentally handicapped. Dubuque was selected that year as one of two model sites in the United States for integrated arts festivals.
Annually a royal couple was elected to preside over the festivities and be honored for their outstanding contributions to the arts in the Dubuque area.
(Source: Encyclopedia Dubuque)