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


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.


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