Legion Arts had its beginnings in the 1980s as The Drawing Legion, an independent, nonprofit performance art company led by Mel Andringa. Creating innovative, original multimedia works, often inspired by art history, the company created and presented its performances in Amsterdam, New York and Iowa City, while touring to many other states and several European countries.
In 1991, the company moved to Cedar Rapids, into what was then an abandoned (distressed?) neighborhood and, more significantly, into historic CSPS Hall. Built by the immigrant organization Česká-Slovanska Podporujici Spolku, or Czech and Slovak Prudential Society, CSPS had opened its doors 100 years earlier. For a century it had served Cedar Rapids as a vibrant community center, housing clubs and various societies, hosting social and cultural events, parties, dances, political rallies and athletic events.
The building's newest tenants set out to build upon that multicultural, multidisciplinary legacy. While continuing to produce original performances, the company also took advantage of the available space to present the work of other artists, beginning with visual arts and performance, and gradually expanding to include music, theatre, opera, dance, film and literature. To reflect its expanded mission, the name of the company was changed to Legion Arts.
Soon audiences were traveling from throughout Iowa and surrounding states to hear legendary musicians like John Fahey, Joan Baez and Odetta -- to meet provocative writers like Eileen Myles and John Giorno – to experience gallery works by Andres Serrano, Yoko Ono, Ana Mendieta and Robert Wilson.
CSPS also became known as the place to encounter young creators at the beginning their careers. Iowa was introduced to such artists as Heidi Cody, Iván Navarro and Brian Guidry, musicians such as Vic Chesnutt, Ani DiFranco and Andrew Bird, and theatremakers like Karen Finley, Will Power, Dan Hurlin and Rude Mechs.
Before long, artists from around the world were also finding their way to our stage. CSPS Hall was now hosting the area debuts of Susana Baca, Vieux Farka Touré, Esma Redžepova, Yungchen Lhamo, Dakha Brakha and other world-class creators.
Following the devastating floods that struck Cedar Rapids in 2008, Legion Arts was able to raise the funds needed to purchase, repair and modernize CSPS Hall. The renovated facility, which opened on Labor Day 2011, has permitted enhanced access to our programming, as well as increased service to the neighborhood and support for local artists.
Today Legion Arts presents 15-20 exhibitions each year, along with 100 or more performing arts events. Emphasizing new and diverse voices, these programs highlight artists from throughout Eastern and Central Iowa, as well as dozens of countries around the globe. At the same time, CSPS Hall has served as the anchor and inspiration for New Bohemia, a thriving, rapidly growing cultural district now comprising galleries, studios, restaurants and bars, book and record stores, light manufacturing, services, retail and residential.