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Inside the Creative Community of Cedar Valley 

In the Cedar Valley region of Iowa, the arts are woven into the region's quality of life tapestry. 

By Rebecca Treon on November 11, 2022

Shades of River Amphitheater, Waverly, IA _ Drone Images
Jonathan David Sabin

The Cedar Valley may be a small community, but it offers an abundance of opportunities to experience the arts that would be the envy of much-larger places.

The region exudes creativity, and its number of arts and culture offerings — from a live riverfront concert to a new art exhibit — just continues to grow. 

People sit inside the lobby at Gallagher Bluedorn, which is located in the Cedar Valley region of Iowa.
Courtesy of Gallagher Bluedorn

“Cedar Valley is such a fun community because it’s one part Mayberry and two parts metro,” says Steven Carignan, associate dean for outreach and special projects at the University of Northern Iowa’s Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center. “There’s a very down-home kind of feel here, but at the same time, we get first-run Broadway shows, rock concerts, comedians and other famous stars.”

The Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls is the premier arts center in Northeast Iowa. It’s home to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony, where people can enjoy the way music acts as a common thread of humanity. They also bring several shows to the area.

Performers at the Gallagher Bluedorn, which is located in the Cedar Valley region of Iowa.
Courtesy of Gallagher Bluedorn

From ‘Hairspray’ to Yo Yo Ma

“We bring in acts from out of town like Jay Leno, Blue Man Group and Yo Yo Ma, and shows like ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,'” says Carignan. “We also work with community theaters and universities, like a production we did of ‘Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat’ with local actors. We have great regional talent, and we’re able to give them the opportunity to work at the same level as other visiting productions.”

The Cedar Falls Community Theatre and Waterloo Community Playhouse/Black Hawk Children’s Theatre also boasts a calendar full of events for people to enjoy. The Waterloo Center for the Arts hosts concerts, festivals and celebrations, including a summer music series called RiverLoop Rhythms held at the RiverLoop Amphitheatre. For more musical events, Waverly has concerts at its Shades of Rhythm Amphitheater, plus another local summer series, Concerts in Kohlmann.

Little girl paints a park piano in the Cedar Valley region of Iowa.
Waverly Chamber/Main Street

Galleries Galore

There are several museums and galleries in the area, including Waldemar A. Schmidt Art GalleryWaterloo Center for the Arts and the University of Northern Iowa Gallery of Art.

The Hearst Center for the Arts is a hub for creative people, offering affordable opportunities to enjoy fine arts exhibits (like an annual art show featuring the work of local school kids) and performing arts shows.

“We like to say that the Hearst Center is where art happens,” says Jennifer Pickar, tourism and cultural programs manager for the City of Cedar Falls. “We have exhibitions that change a number of times throughout the year; we have a mix of national shows and local work because we want to celebrate the art that’s made here but also bring new things to our area as well.” 

The Hearst features a sculpture garden with a trail that runs through it, and it hosts art festivals, family-friendly classes and outdoor concerts.

Shades of Rhythm Amphitheater, Waverly, IA _ Drone Images
Jonathan David Sabin

Culture & Community

“This community is wonderful about supporting the arts. We’re a great small college town, and I’m kind of biased, but we have so many entertainment options, art activities and recreational opportunities … We just have a great quality of life here,” Pickar says.

The Cedar Valley hosts many different cultural festivals throughout the year, including the Iowa Irish Fest, held in Waterloo, the state’s largest Irish festival, My Waterloo Days and Pridefest. Waverly’s Oktoberfest and Heritage Days festivals also offer live music and outdoor entertainment for all ages.

Art in the Cedar Valley will even come to you — the Gallagher Bluedorn hosts “Block Parties,” where it totes a portable stage into various neighborhoods around town for a live concert.

The new RiverLoop Amphitheatre & Expo Plaza along the Cedar River in downtown Waterloo, Iowa.
Jeff Adkins

“We found that people really love being with their neighbors, in addition to enjoying live music, so the series has been popular,” says Carignan. “(Cedar Valley) really is a unique place. We have more stuff to do than most places, and I like that there is a community pride piece.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Cedar Valley area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Cedar Valley, Iowa

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