Being one of those artsy “theatre geeks” didn’t make Lindsay Bauer very popular when she was growing up. But when she went to a conference a few months ago, she couldn’t sit down to eat because everyone wanted to sit by her.
“If I’m not surrounded by art or surrounded by artists, I don’t fit in very well,” she said.
Her sudden rise in popularity is credited to becoming the executive director of Orange City Arts. She’s still the new kid on the block but with infinitely better social standing.
She moved to small-town Iowa after living in Chicago for three years, spending part of that time working as the after-school programs coordinator with the American Theater Company. Her husband was a realtor, sometimes working 80 hours a week. And then, they had a baby, and she stayed home.
Something about living in one of the world’s most expensive cities and trying to do meaningful work and raise a child wasn’t clicking.
But they remembered a place where they could build the kind of life they wanted: Orange City.
“I always describe it as odd community because it’s this wonderful microcosm of artists and activists and believers and thinkers and doers,” she said. “It’s just a really lovely place to try and be an artist, to do work and to raise a family.”
They moved to Orange City two years ago after her husband, Cody, got a job at Staples. They had trouble finding childcare, so she stayed home with their son for a while. Then, she started OCStages: Orange City Youth Theatre, and eventually, got involved with Swander Woman Productions, which is led by Mary Swander, the Poet Laureate of Iowa.
While Bauer loved being a part of Chicago’s thriving theatre scene, she also sees the intrinsic value of building a strong arts community in a small town.
“What I was working on in Chicago, somebody else can do. There are all kinds of other people waiting to do what I was doing in Chicago, so if I leave, there’s somebody to take my place,” she said. “Now, when I come here, there aren’t that many of us. And if we’re not doing it, it doesn’t get done.”
Her commitment to the local arts community caught the attention of Janine Calsbeek, who was then the executive director of Orange City Arts. The mission of the nonprofit organization is to enrich the community by showcasing world-class artists, facilitating arts education and supporting local artists.
Bauer dreamed of having this job but didn’t think it would happen. And actually, after working with Calsbeek on a couple projects, she wasn’t sure she wanted it. The work was daunting. But important.
When Calsbeek said she was going to step down, she encouraged Bauer to apply. Bauer has been leading Orange City Arts since March. She’s responsible for upholding a 40-year legacy of connecting people through art.
“I don’t have the right last name for this town,” Bauer said. “Sometimes, when I get discouraged, I make the joke that, gosh, if heaven forbid, anything ever happens to Cody, I’m going to find a tall, Vander-blonde and see how successful we can be.”
It’s true—she’s not from here. She’s lived in the Quad Cities, the Twin Cities, the Windy City and now Orange City. Bauer and her husband graduated from Northwestern College in 2008 and a number of close friends and mentors stayed in the small town.
So, it was pretty easy to go back.
“On occasion, I miss being able to order sushi to be delivered to my apartment at 3 a.m., but really, the times where that’s appropriate are few,” she said. “Home is where we make it. I feel at home here because I’ve crafted a home for myself here, and I’ve gathered to myself a community of people that make me feel at home.”
Her community is people who make, love and appreciate art. And in her new role, she’s surrounded by them: dancers, musicians, painters, sculptors, poets. In Bauer’s mind, they’re all telling stories. No matter what form they take or movement they make, the arts tell stories. And stories connect us.
“Quite honestly, I believe that art is the language of the soul,” she said. “Even if we don’t understand what this poem is saying or we don’t know what this sculpture is, but it makes us feel something—that’s tapping into that language of the soul. And we just need to provide the opportunities for our people to do that.”
The tagline for Orange City Arts is: “The arts for everyone.” Bauer stands by it, and she holds out hope for the people who think, The arts aren’t for me. She’s convinced: “You just haven’t found your art.”
“Your art might be woodworking. Your art might be slam poetry. Your art might be rap. Your art might be pour painting. I don’t know,” she said. “But something speaks to you.”