As Legion Arts regroups, Cedar Rapids agrees to release funds

City had placed $17K on hold as NewBo arts group deals with finances

F. John Herbert (left) and Mel Andringa are the co-founders of Legion Arts, which bought the historic CSPS Hall in Cedar
F. John Herbert (left) and Mel Andringa are the co-founders of Legion Arts, which bought the historic CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids’ NewBo neighborhood after the 2008 flood. The nonprofit organization they founded presents cutting-edge art and artists, music, theater, film, dance and exhibitions there and at other area venues. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Days after the executive director of Legion Arts announced his resignation as the arts organization based at CSPS Hall retools, the Cedar Rapids City Council agreed Tuesday to release $17,000 in hotel-motel tax proceeds it had on hold.

Legion Arts, a performance and visual cornerstone of the New Bohemia District, has been in a leadership transition and struggling with debt — which led the council to withhold the hotel-motel money in August.

“It’s to show ‘thank you for what you are doing,’” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said of releasing the money, noting the city wanted to see the organization succeed and pay its bills.

“Now they have people in place taking this very seriously,” Hart said. “It’s a wonderful organization, but it wasn’t working the way it was.”

Legion Arts sought $35,000 per year for the latest three-year funding cycle for hotel-motel tax proceeds. The organization received $17,000 last year. But when the funding for year two came up for approval in August — more than 20 nonprofit organizations receive money through a competitive application cycle — Legion Arts was left off the list.

Legion Arts was founded 29 years ago by two artists, F. John Herbert and Mel Andringa, who ran the organization as it grew. Over time, the organization came to possess CSPS Hall and the adjacent fire house building, which added responsibilities for maintaining a more than 100-year old building and serving as a landlord to retail tenants.

In recent years, particularly as debt mounted, the founders faced pressure to develop a leadership transition plan and step aside. The organization owes more than $100,000 to some 25 vendors and artists.


Andringa largely had pulled back his role, while Herbert had continued to run the day-to-day operations, including managing the performance lineup.

Herbert notified friends and colleagues on Sept. 27 that his last day would be Sept. 29. He resigned his seat at the board’s Sept. 24 meeting.

Matthew Steele, publisher of the Little Village magazine, was named chairman of the Legion Arts board this summer and has taken an active role in stabilizing the organization. One of his first orders of business was to replenish a depleted board of directors, which was no longer meeting regularly.

Steele said Tuesday the board has appointed six new members, bringing the total to 11. He expected to announce an update Wednesday on an interim executive director. He previously said an interim likely would serve through the end of the year, with a permanent executive director taking over at the beginning of 2020.

“It’s very apparent that they are making the kind of progress internally that council wanted to see,” said council member Dale Todd, who has served as a liaison for the city on the matter.

Musicians Greg Brown and Karen Savoca are performing a benefit to support the Legion Arts at 8 p.m., Saturday at CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE. Tickets are $30.

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