Five for Five Seasons: Five women at the helm of area arts and culture organizations

  • 1

Photo by Stijn Debrouwere

Five for Five Seasons is a periodic listing of five items somehow related to Cedar Rapids — The City of Five Seasons. The fifth season? Why, time to enjoy the other four, of course!

Gail Naughton has announced she will retire in June 2018 from the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, an organization she has led since 2002. She is one of several female leaders who have been setting the course of some of the Cedar Rapids area’s most robust and innovative arts and culture organizations. Here are five of them.

1) Dara Schmidt, Cedar Rapids Public Library

Schmidt presides over an organization that is both beloved and under supported. Shortly into her tenure, area residents rejected a levy and the library was forced to make changes to hours and services. Then, in May of this year, the library collected the prestigious National Medal for Museum and Library Service – which suggests the library is more than worthy of community support.

2) Akwi Nji, The Hook

Nji launched The Hook – an organization committed to the intersection of storytelling and empathy – in 2016. Already, it’s hard to image the Cedar Rapids arts scene without it. Among The Hook’s offerings is Drop the Mic, which is also what Nji has earned the right to do.

3) Heather Akers, Giving Tree Theater

In partnership with her husband, Richie, Akers founded a new theater company in Marion with an innovative approach: Giving Tree Theater operates as a for-profit organization so that it can use ticket proceeds to support area non-profits. Combine that with the space’s unique seating – including couches and overstuffed chairs – and the quality of the work on stage, and you have one of the area’s most special organizations

4) LaNisha Cassell, African American Museum of Iowa

Cassell has taken over the leadership of the African American Museum from its deeply respected founder, Tom Moore. A dynamic leader, Cassell will no doubt protect Moore’s legacy while also expanding the offerings and impact of the museum in the community and in the state.

5) Katie Hallman, Theatre Cedar Rapids

Hallman is a Cedar Rapids native who recently returned to become TCR’s executive director. She’s been in the position for only a couple of months and has already presided over a significant change: the departure of longtime artistic director Leslie Charipar. It remains to be seen what that means for the theater’s offerings in the coming years.

  • 1
Thoughts? Tips? A cute picture of a dog? Share them with LV »


Summer Programs 2020

Get 150+ local restaurants delivered to your door in the Iowa City & Cedar Rapids areas!


July 2020 marks Little Village’s 19th anniversary. With our community of readers alongside us, we’ll be ready for what the next 19 have in store.



$10/mo or $120/year
The cost of doing this work really adds up! Your contribution at this level will cover telephone and internet expenses for one month at the LV editorial offices.


$20/mo or $240/year
$240 is enough to cover one month’s costs for sending out our weekly entertainment newsletter, The Weekender. Make a contribution at this level to put a little more oomph on your support and your weekend.


$30/mo or $360/year
(AUTO-RENEW) connects eastern Iowa culture with the world. Your contribution at this level will cover the site’s hosting costs for three months. A bold move for our boldest supporters!

All monthly and annual contributors receive:

  • Recognition on our Supporters page (aliases welcome)
  • Exclusive early access when we release new half-price gift cards
  • Access to a secret Facebook group where you can connect with other supporters and discuss the latest news and upcoming events (and maybe swap pet pics?) with the LV staff
  • Invitations to periodic publisher chats (held virtually for now) to meet with Matt and give him a piece of your mind, ask your burning questions and hear more about the future plans for Little Village, Bread & Butter Magazine, Witching Hour Festival and our other endeavors.