On Saturday, June 15th I walked through downtown Iowa City in the early afternoon. Post-parade, Pride was in full-swing as dancers and performers prepared for the afternoon show and pedestrians wandered from venue to venue, table to table. In front of The Englert Theatre was a table tent for the Strengthen, Grow, Evolve Campaign, a joint venture shared by The Englert and FilmScene to “build the greatest small city for the arts in America.” Both organizations are looking to update and renovate their current spaces, open the Chauncey (an extension of FilmScene complete with three theaters and a bowling ball alley), and create more opportunities for students and community members to appreciate and attend arts events in downtown Iowa City.
As a current Community Participation Researcher for The Englert, alongside my colleague Alex Denison, we believed one of the best ways to learn more about the ethos of the Englert as interns was to participate in discussing the campaign with those in our community. When I arrived at the table, complete with stickers, informational packets, FilmScene brochures and tattoos, and a raffle to win tickets for Bianca Del Rio’s show in October, I was warmly greeted by Jim, a retired psychologist and volunteer at The Englert. We chatted about Iowa City’s incredible public library, what shows we’d both seen at The Englert (John Waters was a shared favorite), and how excited we were to live in a small mid-western city where this kind of multi-million dollar campaign to enrich the art’s community was possible.
My colleague and friend Alex arrived shortly thereafter, and we spent the next two hours informally chatting with dozens of individuals who stopped by our table. We spoke to people who were students, some who had just moved to Iowa City, and to notable residents like Laura Bergus who is currently running for Iowa City Council. Some of the individuals we spoke to love 16mm film, and were amazed to hear that FilmScene sometimes does screenings on film. Others were eager for yard signs to advertise the campaign to their neighbors.
While Alex and my task as community participation researchers is primarily to interview those in the community about The Englert’s strengths, weaknesses, and community engagement, tabling felt like an important way to start these preliminary conversations and to serve, however modestly, an organization we’ve both come to love in the two short weeks we’ve been working. As film studies Ph.D. candidates, we both have a deep appreciation for the work The Englert and FilmScene do to support local artists, musicians, and filmmakers, as well as their tireless efforts to make sure prices are affordable for students (like the Bijou Film Board’s free films twice a week for students during the school year or Witching Hour tickets for 2019 that are currently only $15 for students). And to see so many people in the community excited about the campaign was infectious for us as interns, students, and cinephiles. As the Strengthen, Grow, Evolve website states, “We are known for our rich culture. It is why people live here, what people remember when they come to visit, and the charm that attracts new people to call this place home.” Tabling at Pride allowed us to see just how many of us are grateful to call this arts city home.