Guest Columnist

Englert Theater and FilmScene join forces to launch ambitious project in Iowa City

An architectural rendering of Chauncey Swan Park adjacent to the new FilmScene at The Chauncy, part of a 15-story reseidential and commercial development set to open later this year. (Rohrbach Associates)
An architectural rendering of Chauncey Swan Park adjacent to the new FilmScene at The Chauncy, part of a 15-story reseidential and commercial development set to open later this year. (Rohrbach Associates)
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What makes a great arts city?

World-class venues, eye-opening performances and works of art, support for working artists—all woven together into the fabric of a community that values and engages in the arts.

Having led arts organizations around the country including in Los Angeles, and in New York City, we know about creative places and here, in Eastern Iowa, we’re living in a city that is every bit as good.

Among other things here in Iowa City, this UNESCO City of Literature, we’re fortunate to be surrounded by working writers, to have Prairie Lights Bookstore, to be treated to renowned productions at Hancher, to hear great music at the Jazz Festival, to see stunning works of art at the Stanley Museum of Art, and to participate in free festivals during our Summer of the Arts.

We can be even greater still thanks to a visionary collaboration announced just yesterday.

Two dynamic organizations at the very heart of our vibrant community are working to make it so. FilmScene, Iowa City’s nonprofit cinema, and The Englert Theatre, our performing arts theater, are joining together to envision a bold future to strengthen, grow and evolve our arts community.

Working together, we can strengthen our historic venues in downtown Iowa City. The Englert Theatre’s remarkable 1912 performance hall is blessed with inspired history, but in need of restoration and modernization to ensure another century of performances looking and sounding their very best. We need to preserve this historic gem, and to continue the ambition of the Save the Englert campaign.

At the same time, FilmScene has plans for a landmark addition to our cultural landscape, the three-screen state-of-the-art cinema at The Chauncey, a new building across from City Hall. As Eastern Iowa’s only 365-days a-year nonprofit cinema, FilmScene’s programming is forward-thinking and soon they can have a space to match. But only if we, the community, rise to support them.

It is entirely up to us.

These marvelous venues are essential to making fine art possible. Building on this foundation, these two organizations seek to evolve their programming, education, and collaboration.

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By nurturing Mission Creek Festival and Witching Hour and adding the literature-inspired Refocus Film Festival, they will continue to bring new audiences to downtown Iowa City from far and wide.

By expanding staff and outreach efforts, they seek to welcome 13,000 school children throughout the Corridor into their spaces, bring artists to their classrooms, and create inspiring arts workshops to develop the next generation.

By setting a model for collaboration, they seek to begin a conversation with all of our Corridor arts nonprofits in an effort to share ideas, create efficiencies, and create deeper collaborative work.

All of these dreams have concrete objectives and we urge you to read more at www.strenghtengrowevolve.org.

Of course, vision doesn’t come free. So this is where we, the community, must rally to support the entrepreneurial work of our arts leaders. As co-chairs of the Strengthen Grow Evolve campaign, we have made a significant contribution already, and we urge you to do the same.

Whether you do it because you love great art, or because you believe that art is an essential part of any community, or because you’re invested in the economic health of our community, it is important to support this campaign. All Iowans will benefit from this.

Thanks to visionary leadership and an engaged community, we couldn’t be more excited for the future. We hope you’ll join us in building the greatest small city for the arts in America.

l Karen Hubenthal Chappell is chair of the board of directors of FilmScene, an arthouse cinema in Iowa City, and the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council. She was associate director of the Center for International and Comparative Studies at the University of Iowa from 1987-1997, and director of the International Center from 1997-1999. She has worked as assistant dean of women and then associate director of residential life at the University of Southern California, program specialist in the performing and literary arts for the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts in Hawaii, executive director of Young Audiences in St. Louis, and development director for the Paul Taylor Dance Company in New York City.

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• Wallace Chappell serves on the board of the Kronos Quartet, and is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Union. He is past-president of the International Society of Performing Arts, and a long-term board member of the Englert Theatre. He was director of Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa from 1986-2001 before moving to New York City to serve as executive director of the American Ballet Theatre from 2001-2004, and executive director of the Paul Taylor American Dance Company from 2004 -2008. As a professional director he worked at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, The Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, and the O’Neill Memorial Theatre in Waterford, Connecticut. He taught theatre and arts administration at UCLA, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Iowa.

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