Archive for the ‘legion arts’ Category

The Return of CSPS!

September 29, 2008

I have mentioned before that one of the saddest things for me in the flooding of Cedar Rapids was the loss of CSPS/Legion Arts (Legion Arts is the organization; CSPS is the building). This organization is really the shining cultural light in Eastern Iowa. Here is how they describe themselves:
Based at CSPS, a restored landmark building on the edge of downtown Cedar Rapids, Legion Arts presents cutting edge art, music, theatre, film and other events at a variety of venues; supports young artists, experimental art forms and new ideas; and works to involve artists and the arts in the processes of community development and neighborhood building.
The building is in the midst of the New Bohemia Arts Center and the edge of the Czech village. Both areas were hard hit and much of them will be plowed under probably not to be rebuilt. CSPS, though, should be able to survive, and I’m happy to say that over the last month it has been re-emerging. Plans were under way for the Landmark festival before the flood, and with a lot of hard work, it was still able to go on, featuring music from around the globe. Most of the concerts were held in Greene Square Park in downtown Cedar Rapids, then the final few shows were held in the CSPS space, an exciting sign without a doubt. Here is there line-up of the event:

Thu Sept 11 Plastic People of the Universe (Czech Rep)
Thu Sept 18 Rachel Unthank (England), Little Cow (Hungary)
Fri Sept 19 Ray Blue (USA/Germany)
Sun Sept 21 17 Hippies (Germany)
Mon Sept 22 Munnelly (Ireland)
Tue Sept 23 Vieux Farka Touré (Mali), Chiwoniso (Zimbabwe)
Wed Sept 24 Lo Còr de la Plana (France)
Fri Sept 26 José Curbelo (Uruguay), Son de Madera (Mexico)

Sun Sept 28 Old Blind Dogs (Scotland)
Mon Sept 29 Waltz With Me Quartet (Norway/Sweden/ USA)

I saw Vieux Farke Toure and Chiwoniso, an excellent show despite Farke Toure’s being quite ill. I usually wouldn’t mention someone’s parents (as if that’s what makes someone famous) but this is the son of legendary Ali Farke Toure and he has embraced his father’s heritage, continuing Mali’s musical tradition. Chiwoniso was also a fine show, full of energy. They spoke a bit about the political situation of Zimbabwe and shared in Cedar Rapids pain, but the show was all energy and celebration. A good time, and a good sign for things to come. Welcome back Legion Arts!!


Legion Arts Theft

July 15, 2008

Yesterday was a beautiful summer afternoon, perfect July weather. I took some pictures of our raspberry patch that’s really filling in after 3 years, and our flower gardens that are really coming into full bloom. I had every intention, then, of writing a nice summery post, show off the gardens, describe our wonderful grilled veggie, orzo, feta and herb dinner last night and talk beer. But this morning I read this really distressing news from post-flood world.

I have written quite a few times about Legion Arts in downtown Cedar Rapids, really the best thing going about this town. I had also posted some pictures of the building and was happy to report that the art gallery and performance space on the second floor were basically unharmed by the floods. This included thousands of dollars in sound equipment. If the building is structurally sound (it appears so but the final verdict isn’t in) and electricity can be restored, they could be up and running pretty quickly. The salvage work on the businesses on the first floor, though, apparently left the building unprotected. Yesterday, thieves used a gap where walls had to be torn down to steal $14,000 of sound equipment. Sure, they are insured and will be able to get back on their feet, but this just astounds me. The neighborhood is a complete disaster area and thieves are seeing it as opportunity. Legion Arts has always run on a shoestring and the hard work of countless volunteers. Directors Mel Andringa and John Herbert have put their lives into keeping this place afloat for over 20 years. As the centerpiece of the new Bohemian Arts District, it was the cornerstone of a new vision for Cedar Rapids before the flood and will be the anchor of whatever might come after the flood. And this is what it comes down to.

I’m mad. I’m sad. And I’m a bit scared of what this bodes for the future as these “opportunities” will be here for many months in this city. Right after the flood, the city was shocked by the news that vandals had broken into the children’s zoo in Bever Park and rounded up 50 ducks of a variety of species from the duck pond, herded them into the corner and stoned them to death. It was just stunning to think of what bad can lurk even in the worst of times (you know, when we all point to tragedy as the point when we come together and the good in people shows up). Nothing like kicking people when they’re down. I was happy to see the community response to that event, and hope there is a similar outcry and public assistance for Legion Arts.


July 7, 2008

I have read a disturbing number of articles and blogs that are attempting to make comparisons between the Iowa floods and New Orleans after Katrina. The argument goes that Iowa has handled this disaster in the way that New Orleans should have: Iowans have pulled together and are working through it while New Orleans folks merely whined. This is such a bogus and disturbing argument I just don’t know where to begin. The swath of devastation from Katrina was vastly larger than the Iowa floods. We also have had no loss of life in Iowa, thank God. But there are two primary issues for me: first, New Orleanians had a reason to complain about the length of time it took FEMA and others to arrive with help, and the incredible mismanagement of such help. In contrast, FEMA was on the scene the day of these floods. If anything, this shows that at least some lessons have been learned through Katrina. I’d also suggest, though, that the portrayal of Iowa nice here doesn’t ultimately hold up. I watched a painful City Council meeting in which citizens called the council racist and classist and claimed they were attempting to bankrupt them. The problem is that even if we have voted the council in based on experience, no council in any city is really prepared to deal with this scope of crisis. Now, I don’t mean to denigrate Iowans here. On the whole, I think the depiction is correct. People have pulled together to an amazing degree; I just don’t buy into this Iowa good, New Orleans bad depiction that I’m hearing these days. One interesting comparison I might make between the two cities is that the most heavily damaged areas were working-class, poorer neighborhoods. If anything, those who are making the argument against New Orleans ought to ask why FEMA was able to get into our white, eastern European neighborhoods immediately while it took so long to get into New Orleans’ primarily black neighborhoods. I’m not trying to add fuel to some racial fire here, but if you’re going to point out the flaws in New Orleans’ response to their crisis, you need to acknowledge that their are different ways to consider the “objective” events. We always need to paint the full picture.

On a different front, I spent some time doing salvage work with the Legion Arts building, one of Cedar Rapids’ primary cultural centers. While the devastation on the main floor and in the firehouse (which was under renovation to serve as artist housing and work space) was heartbreaking, I’m also happy to say that the building is still structurally sound and the primary art gallery and performance space on the 2nd floor were mostly untouched. When power returns to the neighborhood (they’re now predicting early August), Legion Arts can get back up and running. Some photos of the building and the neighborhood might also give you a sense of the scope of clean-up projects. Here is the building before the flood. The sandbags would have kept the building safe based on the 1993 floods which did not touch the door and based on the projections that were in play up until the day before the crest:

The reality of the flood, however, was that water made it up to the address numbers on the top window. Here is the post-flood scene:

And here is the scene as ruined debris were pulled from the building:

Here are a few pictures of the remains of 40 years of art work by Mel Andringa. Mel was using the firehouse as a studio and storage while it was renovated as an artist studio for out of town artists:

You’ll notice what look like puzzle pieces, and well they are puzzle pieces. Mel uses puzzles for his art. It’s a shame to lose all this work, but he seems to be keeping his spirits about him and is looking forward to getting Legion Arts up and running again. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of salvaging in a flood-ravaged building, here are a few internal shots from the firehouse:

Notice the thickness of the sludge everywhere. It’s hot, nasty, smelly, and quite toxic work, but Iowans are in fact pulling together and going through this building by building, house by house. I don’t mean for my earlier comment to suggest otherwise, I just don’t want to hear the ridiculous and pointedly political comparisons made with New Orleans. Me, I’m just looking for a return of the Legion Arts as a sign of the return of Cedar Rapids.