After Taylor Bergen saw a show put on by Legion Arts at CSPS Hall in 2011, he decided he wanted to work for the Cedar Rapids arts organization. He called the next day to see if they were hiring.
They weren’t. But a little over three months later, Bergen was hired as a program associate, and worked for Legion Arts for almost four years.
Now, Bergen is back at CSPS. He was named interim director of Legion Arts on Wednesday.
“This building and this organization, I believe, are fundamental assets to the community,” said Bergen, who graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa with a degree in music. “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.”
Legion Arts co-founder F. John Herbert, who served as the organization’s executive director for 28 years, stepped down at the end of last month. The organization has been struggling financially with $100,000 of debt, as well as how to transition to new leadership with Herbert and co-founder Mel Andringa preparing to retire. The two have led the organization for decades and have been praised for transforming Cedar Rapids’ arts scene and the NewBo area.
Little Village publisher Matthew Steele, who serves as chair of Legion Arts’ board of directors, said new leadership for the nonprofit should be in place early next year.
“Transitioning to the next phase of an organization is oftentimes hard because you want to maintain the great foundation that has been laid from a mission standpoint and artistic standpoint,” Bergen said. “I can very definitively say the programming done by John and Mel over the previous 25 years is as dynamic as you’re going to find in this area. It’s the most worldly, and it engages the broadest groups — it’s for everyone.”
“My biggest goal for the organization would just be building on the programmatic foundation that has existed here and the community space foundation that has existed here.”
John Fahey and Joan Baez are among the legendary musicians Legion Arts brought to Cedar Rapids. The organization also brought in Ani DiFranco, Andrew Bird and Vic Chesnutt to perform in the early stages of their careers.
This Saturday, Iowa music icon Greg Brown will perform a benefit show for Legion Arts at CSPS, which has been the nonprofit’s home for decades. Brown will be joined by singer-songwriter Karen Savoca. The show begins at 8 p.m., and tickets are $30 in advance or $40 at the door.
“I have a great love of world music, and this place has had a long tradition of presenting artists from all around the world,” Bergen said.
“I’ve always interpreted this place as a place of sharing and inclusion and acceptance that no matter who you are, or where you come from, this is a space that accepts that and wants to learn more about it.”
Bergen left Legion Arts in December 2015 to work at NewBo City Market, which at the time was in a difficult financial situation and had similar struggles to those Legion Arts are currently experiencing. He served as director of operations for approximately two years, before leaving to pursue a career in real estate.
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His passion for restoring old homes and his interest in promoting affordable housing led Bergen to start his own company, Local Dwellings. The company buys underutilized older houses, renovates them and sells or rents the homes for an affordable price.
Bergen said he’s excited for the opportunity to help Legion Arts move forward, especially given his ties and love of the organization and CSPS. He has many fond memories at the historic building.
For one, it’s where he met his wife. Their first date was a show at CSPS, and it also hosted their wedding reception. Bergen said he’s met some of his closest friends at a Legion Arts concert or art show.
“Some of my best friends and my best experiences are tied to these four walls,” Bergen said. “Some of the best professional relationships I’ve ever had I can tie to this building.”
“[Legion Arts] has brought — this is cliché — but it’s brought the world to Cedar Rapids. 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.”
Editor’s note: This story originally gave the wrong location for Joan Baez’s performance, but has been updated.