HER MAGAZINE

HER honoree Heather Wagner mentors students at Eastern Iowa Arts Academy

Women of Achievement

#x201c;It may sound dramatic, but I have seen firsthand that if a child or even adult for that matter has the resources
“It may sound dramatic, but I have seen firsthand that if a child or even adult for that matter has the resources to create art and music, they are able to handle their home lives better, and having that outlet also helps them control anxiety, panic, depression and other mental (health) issues,” Heather Wagner says. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Heather Wagner is the kind of artist who uses her interests to help fuel the gift of creativity in others.

Wagner is the music and arts studios director for Eastern Iowa Arts Academy. In her role, she is responsible for the on-site facility that offers classes and workshops to students of all ages, from kindergarten through adults.

She oversees all the programming content in art and music, plus she manages the rock band program, home to eight youth rock bands.

Wagner also does grant writing, and coordinates special-needs art programs for students who are autistic or mentally handicapped.

The Cedar Rapids native and graduate of Washington High School started full-time with the academy in 2014, but has been teaching class there for years.

Wagner’s strong interest in her work comes from her belief that the arts literally can save lives.

“It may sound dramatic, but I have seen firsthand that if a child or even adult for that matter has the resources to create art and music, they are able to handle their home lives better, and having that outlet also helps them control anxiety, panic, depression and other mental (health) issues,” she said.

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“My passion comes from seeing the incredible changes in self-confidence and self-love that emerge from kids who put their hearts into art and music.”

And the children make every day’s work worthwhile, she said.

“I really care for my students like they are my family,” Wagner said. “A lot of them call me ‘mom,’ and honestly that warms my heart.

“I have a rule that they absolutely have to be themselves as soon as they walk in the door, and there will never be judgment from me. Knowing they feel safe in the environment we are offering means the world to me as I hope it does to them as well. Seeing them grow from young kids to young adults, building confidence and self-worth is a true gift.”

Many children, she said, “have come to the academy quiet, defeated and reserved and leave feeling really confident about their talents and skills, thriving in the classes we offer. That is an incredible thing to witness.”

Growing up, Wagner thought she wanted to be a writer.

Once she discovered her interests for the visual arts, she worked toward obtaining her bachelor of fine arts from Iowa State University.

She was employed in advertising for many years while living in Texas and Kansas. But upon moving back to Cedar Rapids, Wagner ventured out on our own as a graphic designer as she started a family.

“I did freelance graphic design and painting, which led me to designing jewelry and doing many art shows showcasing my original painted furniture,” she recalled. “Throughout the years I developed a love of teaching private art classes to children and adults.”

The majority of this year has presented Wagner with many challenges in delivering programming, especially because one-on-one access has been limited.

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“I have tried hard to keep kids singing and playing instruments by doing online concerts at home and Zoom calls,” she said.

She also put together an art-bag campaign when COVID-19 first started to spread so children could take a bag of art supplies home with them.

Her latest initiative is a campaign to ensure access art supplies, guitars and ukuleles for virtual classes from local professional artists and musicians.

Once a month, Business 380 spotlights some of HER magazine’s Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.

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