CEDAR RAPIDS — New leadership is coming to the Freedom Festival next summer, but the next executive director is no stranger to the weekslong event that culminates with Fourth of July fireworks.
Carissa Johnson, who has been the Freedom Festival’s events and marketing director since 2017, will take over as executive director after this year’s festival concludes.
She will replace Robyn Rieckhoff, who has been executive director since 2012. Rieckhoff is stepping down to become the Eastern Iowa director for Variety, the Des Moines-based children’s charity.
Rieckhoff said she has been training Johnson — whose first work experience with the Freedom Festival was as an intern in 2012 — to ensure a smooth transition.
“I felt like I had someone in place that could handle it, and it was time to pass on the baton,” Rieckhoff said Tuesday. “If I didn’t have that person in place, I wouldn’t leave.”
During Rieckhoff’s tenure, the Freedom Festival has grown to include scores of events that draw more than 400,000 people over the course of its weekslong run.
Rieckhoff said leaving the Freedom Festival will be “very tough,” but she expects Johnson to bring “new energy and excitement” to the event.
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“It’s been a really fun job,” Rieckhoff said. “I’ve enjoyed building it. ... I’ve taken it as far as I can.”
Johnson has seen the Freedom Festival grow firsthand, working with the event on and off since her time as an intern.
“It feels kind of surreal,” Johnson said. “I never would’ve guessed my internship would’ve led to an executive director position.”
Johnson said Rieckhoff has been a longtime mentor for her.
“(Rieckhoff) has really guided me and has gone above and beyond,” Johnson said. “She has provided me with experiences I couldn’t have gotten on my own.”
As executive director, Johnson said she hopes to help the Freedom Festival continue its growth by tapping into new demographics.
She said that job will be made easier because of Rieckhoff’s work in turning the festival into a “well-oiled” machine.
That work, Rieckhoff, said, has been a labor of love.
“I treat it like it’s my family,” she said of the Freedom Festival.
For information on this year’s Freedom Festival, which runs through July 4, go to freedomfestival.com.
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