Chris Wiersema

Chris Wiersema

1980 - 2024

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Obituary of Chris Wiersema

Christopher (Chris) Wiersema of Iowa City died on Wednesday, March 13, unexpectedly, but peacefully in his sleep.


A public memorial will take place on Sunday, April 7th at the The Englert Theatre from 2-5 p.m. The Englert Theatre is located at 221 E Washington St in downtown Iowa City.


Chris was born on July 10, 1980 in Naperville, Illinois to his loving parents Douglas Warren Wiersema and Mary Lynette Wiersema. He was followed by his brothers Brian in 1984 and Kevin in 1986.


Chris grew up in the Chicago area and began his career in the arts as a teenage extra in the film adaptation of High Fidelity. He was a brillant, curious, and adventurous young adult. During a tense stretch of his teenage years, he survived a stint in reform school in the Dominican Republic–an experience that profoundly shaped his life. By his own account, it was a difficult ordeal, but, in being temporarily displaced from the deluge of media that most American youth grew up with in the ‘90s, he found hidden beauties in the new world around him. He explored the sounds of nature and the noise of man-made industry: cars, motorcycles, and factories. He learned to see art, hear music, and discover humanity in unexpected places. In spite of his harsh conditions, Chris developed a set of values that he would carry through his many friendships in life: in the most difficult or uncertain times, he could see the best in us, understand our possibilities, and encourage us to pursue our most promising outcomes.


After returning to Chicago, he spent several years writing about culture and community for Newcity magazine. Sometimes in print and often in casual conversation, Chris was a global arts & culture reviewer of the most refined order. He could focus a critical eye, often with sharp, humorous wit, on everything that was crooked about the world while maintaining a clear view on all that was good. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he believed we should keep living, keep trying, and keep up our hopes.


In 2001, he moved a few hours west to attend the University of Iowa. He had heard that Iowa City was a good place for artists and the arts and his influence on Iowa City’s artistic scene was immediate. As a musician, he often collaborated with his close friend Matt Schettler in the ambient/noise band Lwa. As a promoter, he hosted both internationally-acclaimed and local musicians at house shows in his basement or in his backyard. As a community member, he supported countless bands and emerging local artists–being at their shows, providing couches to sleep on, and offering a masterful mix of honest, kind, and motivating feedback. Musicians started bands or kept making music after hearing encouragement and advice from Chris.

He took the role of manager of the local rock club Picador in 2006 (formerly Gabe’s and then Gabe’s again in 2010.) During his tenure, Picador established itself as an essential venue for touring and local artists in the Midwest in a period when indie and experimental music rose in popularity. In that time, it seemed possible to see bands like Animal Collective, Boris, and Wolf Eyes, sometimes within weeks or days of each other. Chris was the steady hand who welcomed the artists to Iowa City and made space for the community to witness their immediate, vibrant art.


In the midst of busy days and longer nights, Chris met his life partner, Anne Marsh, one of the few people who could meet and exceed Chris’ sophistication by having a sharper wit, more daring sense of aesthetics, and an even more heartwarming, welcoming laugh that could make any stranger a friend.


While stewarding Picador toward success, Chris remained fully committed to the “official” and underground music and arts scenes happening at other venues and in local basements. In 2009, he became a producer–and eventually programming director–with Iowa City’s Mission Creek Festival. He helped transform the festival from a DIY start-up into a leading national event for independent music and literature. He curated legendary, improbable performances in Iowa City with artists like Faust, Silver Apples, Laurel Halo, and Philip Glass. He later joined the Witching Hour festival team as a founding producer and curated a range of multidisciplinary experiences.


Following his time with Mission Creek and Witching Hour, Chris founded Feed Me Weird Things, a concert series devoted to avant-garde, experimental, and other music existing outside of society’s usual descriptors. While rotating across several local venues, the series found its spiritual home at Trumpet Blossom Cafe, an Iowa City vegan restaurant that became a listening room after dinner service.


Feed Me Weird Things was the culmination of a lifetime of listening and nearly two decades of working in the arts. Through Feed Me Weird Things, Chris shared his ultimate vision of welcoming his community into beautiful sounds and art that we might have otherwise missed. While his reputation had been earned over years, the range of artists featured at Feed Me Weird Things concerts affirmed Chris as one of the most singular, visionary, and caring music programmers in the United States. In 2022, he launched Feed Me Weird Things’ keynote festival event FEaST, a multi-day celebration of adventurous music that quickly became a marquee destination for underground, experimental, and forward-thinking artists from around the world.


Through all this work, Chris was fastidiously and gratefully in service to the idea of building a better community, a place where we feel inspired to be creative and are bold enough to engage art that is unfamiliar to us. In many ways, he simply wanted us to be moved, to fall for something and be transformed, to be in awe of life.


More privately, he was, increasingly with age, an expert gardener. He was an accomplished prose writer, working in both fiction and essay formats, most recently on a long-form reflection of his time in the Dominican Republic. After a hiatus, he had returned to playing and recording music in a collaborative project called Death Bag with his friend Gabi Vanek. His record collection was worthy of review by the Library of Congress and, as a local DJ, he shared his curated archive with eager audiences. And, he loved his cats! He perhaps saw them as a more elevated species than anything else. Chris was also wickedly funny, discussing the issues of the day in elaborate modes of satire. He criticized Iowa City on all matters culture and politics accurately and painfully–and he did it because he loved this place; despite being born a city kid, he was quietly ecstatic to commit much of his life to this place in an effort to make it all better. And the joyous energy he brought to the world with his closest friend and partner, Anne, was magical. Together, they were exquisite hosts feeding friends, old and new, in warm and cold weather, near the bonfire in their backyard–always sharing stories and laughter into the late hours.


In all his actions, it was rarely about Chris–it was always about the rest of us–his community, his people. Every show, every conversation in the park, every joke traded over IG messenger–it was an invitation to be alive and engage with the world around us. He was also beloved by artists and artist agents and managers across the country and the world who knew that when they came to Iowa City, Chris and his team would treat them like family. At his core, he was committed to kindness and taking care of those around him. He cooked for us, made sure we always got home safely, and listened to us for hours as we tried to figure out our lives.


As Chris embraced his forties, he actively supported young, emerging artists and curators in Iowa City. He steadily paid his experience forward, ensuring the path would be easier for people coming up twenty years behind him. Many saw Chris as a friend, a brother, a father, an uncle, a guide, a mentor, and no one saw him better than his wife, Anne, who loved him so deeply and was the truest of partners, supporting him through his work and passions.


Chris loved his wife, his parents, his brothers, his nephews, and his community. And his community and family truly felt that love. And, again, he loved his cats!


Chris was preceded in death by his mother, his brother Brian, and by his dearest cats: Ornette, Preston, and also Margot.


He is survived by his wife Anne Marsh, father Douglas Wiersema, in-laws Dawn Elizabeth Marsh and Timothy Weston Marsh, brother Kevin Wiersema, sister-in-law Danielle Wiersema, and nephews Trey and Dylan Wiersema.


When Chris moved to Iowa City, he had heard it was a good town for artists and the arts. When Chris left Iowa City, he had made it a better town for artists and the arts, a place that might inch closer to making its dream of itself an actual, breathing reality. In doing so, he has left a foundation, roadmap, and endless inspiration for the rest of us to continue the work. He will be remembered, missed, and loved forever by his family and friends in Iowa, the Midwest, and across the world.


Gathering of Family & Friends

2:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Sunday, April 7, 2024
Englert Theatre
221 E. Washington Street
Iowa City, Iowa, United States