Artistic Iowa: Luck, Talent, and Unique Visions Make for Iowa Arts Success Stories

Oct 4, 2016

What does it take to make it as an artist? When the line between success and failure is so thin, what factors contribute to an artist making it? For some, the old adage “Success is a third talent, a third perseverance, and a third talent” may not apply.

“I’d take ‘a third talent’ out of that, and I’d replace perseverance with attrition,” laughs Halt and Catch Fire actor Toby Huss.

Toby Huss grew up in Marshalltown, Iowa in the 1960s and 70s. Today, he has a thriving career in film and television, where he's acted alongside stars like Tom Cruise and Christian Bale. He says the beginning of his career didn't start in a fit of inspiration. Huss attributes a far larger chunk of his success to persistence. 

“I had no discernable skills in any other direction other than performance, so I thought well I might as well keep trying to do this. I guess it’s the fallback position of a talentless hack. Then you just get lucky, hopefully.”

Luck, as well as being in the right place at the right time, helped contribute to another Iowan artist’s success: art mechanic Steve Gerberich.  Gerberich started as a photographer, but now he combines engineering and art to turn discarded items into fantastical sculptures. In the 80s, Gerberich left the University of Northern Iowa for New York City, where he took a unique opportunity to showcase his work.

“When I moved to New York City, I found myself in a store for rent which I cleaned out as a job, and I simply set up my vignettes telling stories in the storefront window. And it was just sort of static, it needed stimulation. So that’s when I simply taught myself how to make things move,” Gerberich says.

His work in that window was seen by the CEO of Bloomingdale’s Visual Department. That led to a 91 windows contract for the store. After that, he took his art on the road.

“My idea of success is getting people to laugh again at art and my ideas, and to make their imagination freed up again, or get it started for that matter,” says Gerberich.

Luck isn’t the only way to achieve success. Bridget Kearney, the bassist and one of the songwriters for the multi-genre band Lake Street Dive, believes her studies at Tufts put her ahead.

“It started to click. I was always really into music," says Kearney, “And thanks to this additional boost of getting into the English language and the way that language works, I think that gave me a bit of an advantage.”

After growing up in Iowa City, Bridget studied Jazz Bass and English at Tufts, where she met many of her fellow bandmates. Regarding her band’s upwards momentum into success, she says that it wasn’t just one big moment.

“There was a series of small steps up for us," says Kearney.

On this hour on River to River, host Ben Kieffer speaks with actor Toby Huss, art mechanic Steve Gerbich, Mike Draper, founder and owner of Raygun, and musician Bridget Kearney about Iowan artists achieving success.