2 TIMES ON LIST

Now in its fourth – or what Executive Director Chuck Swanson calls its “senior year” – in its soaring $176 million facility, Hancher Auditorium is still learning, growing and stretching boundaries in an effort to “capture as broad an audience as possible.”

“It’s still a joy to the heart when people come in here for the first time and are just so taken with it,” said Mr. Swanson. “This building really helps, but Hancher is so much more than a building.”

For the first time, the arts venue has kicked off its expanded season in the summer, with a line-up featuring powerhouse women artists like Diana Ross, Storm Large and Audra McDonald. It offers a host of educational opportunities and represents “the largest classroom on campus,” exposing the community to a diverse group of artists and material it might never otherwise encounter.

Mr. Swanson said it gets easier each year to recruit top artists to Hancher, although the institution does not intend to rest on its laurels.

“Each year gets better and better, but that puts the pressure on,” he said. “Things do come together, but sometimes it’s a little hair-raising, a little nail-biting.”

– Katharine Carlon

1st Runner Up: Paramount Theatre

2nd Runner Up: Theatre Cedar Rapids