Taylor Bergen has been named executive director of CSPS, the Cedar Rapids arts organization formerly known as Legion Arts. Bergen had been serving as the interim director since October 2019 after co-founder F. John Herbert stepped down in late September 2019 after 28 years with the organization. Co-founder Mel Andringa retired a few months later in the winter of 2019.
Andringa and Herbert have been praised for transforming Cedar Rapids’ arts scene and the NewBo area. The pair brought in artists from all across the country and around the world to perform in town. After the 2008 flood, then-Legion Arts bought CSPS Hall to ensure the future of both the organization and the building.
Legion Arts first moved into the century-old Czech-Slovak Protective Society Hall in 1991, and the arts organization became so closely associated with the building that eventually CSPS became more commonly used as its name instead of Legion Arts. In May 2020, the board of Legion Arts officially changed its name to CSPS.
John Fahey and Joan Baez are among the legendary musicians the organization brought to Cedar Rapids. It also featured performances by Ani DiFranco, Andrew Bird and Vic Chesnutt in the early stages of their careers.
“[CSPS] has brought — this is cliché — but it’s brought the world to Cedar Rapids,” Bergen told Little Village in 2019. “It’s brought other viewpoints to Cedar Rapids. It’s brought discussion. And that’s so important. It’s not something we as a community can afford to lose.”
Despite the decades of artistic success, CSPS was struggling to survive with the debt it was accruing. In 2019, the organization was $100,000 in debt.
David Maier, chair of the executive director search committee, said in a news release on Wednesday that as interim director, Bergen had helped “stabilize the organization and ensure its continued success.”
“Taylor secured grants and private funding totaling more than $125,000 and settled more than $100,000 in debts, and re-purposed retail space in the building that provided additional income while providing increased opportunities for artists and entrepreneurs,” said Maier, who is also treasurer on the Board of Directors.
Past board president (and Little Village publisher) Matt Steele said in the news release that Bergen “quickly adapted gallery space to support virtual events” in 2020 as many organizations were shifting their operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. CSPS hosted 25 visual art performances last year.
Steele added that Bergen will partner with NewBo City Market and other nonprofits to host live outdoor music performances this spring and summer.
Bergen’s roots with the nonprofit go back to 2011 when he saw a show put on by Legion Arts at CSPS Hall. Three months later, Bergen was hired as a program associate and worked at Legion Arts for almost four years.
Bergen left in December 2015 to work at NewBo City Market and was there for about two years before departing to pursue a career in real estate.
“This building and this organization, I believe, are fundamental assets to the community,” Bergen said in 2019 when he was named interim director. “My first thought was, ‘If I can help those two things exist, I want to do it.’ It has been a desire of mine since I left to be back in some capacity.”
Wednesday’s announcement also included individuals joining the organization’s Board of Directors.
Monica Vernon will serve as president and Julie Parisi will be the secretary. Maier will stay on as treasurer. Sarah Halbrook, Tamara Marcus and Elizabeth Moreau are also joining the board.