The Strengthen, Grow, Evolve Campaign at The Englert is in full swing. On Saturday, June 22nd, I arrived at the SGE tent for the Downtown Iowa Block Party. Despite the calls for rain all day, the sky was clear and the air breezy. At the tent was Grace, an employee of The Englert, as well as Joe Tiefenthaler, the Executive Director of FilmScene, and Andrew Sherburne, the Marketing Director of FilmScene. I was heartened to see not just volunteers for the tent, but the leadership for the campaign present and engaged with the community. Down the street to the right, Ross was in the preliminary stages of setting up the screen for an evening showing of Grease and on the left was the stage for the finishing round of a break dance competition.
As a Community Participation Researcher for The Englert, one of my greatest privileges is getting to speak to various people at The University of Iowa and in downtown Iowa City who are involved in the arts and/or non-profit organizations. Almost daily I learn of a new project or partnership FilmScene or The Englert has forged. I’ve spoken to the inaugural Englert Theatre NonFiction Fellow Dan Cronin who received the time, space, and support to write and present his work on The Englert’s stage; Joyce Tsai the Chief Curator of the Stanley Museum of Art; and Molly Bagnall the incoming Executive Director for the Bijou Film Board. While there are countless more interviews that my colleague Alex Denison and I have conducted, we are always inspired by the recurring enthusiasm so many have for the work The Englert is already doing. Furthermore, everyone we speak to is always eager for potential future collaborations, whether it’s a mixed-media, interdisciplinary event or a bi-annual social for all leadership involved in the arts at both the University of Iowa and in the surrounding area.
At the SGE tent on Saturday, I was grateful for the countless conversations I’ve had with staff at The Englert, people affiliated with the University, and those in the community, that enabled me to speak to The Englert’s passion for community and collaboration. When a person stopped by to inquire into the nuts and bolts of the campaign, Grace was able to eloquently answer many of the questions, but I also felt emboldened to speak to how this campaign benefits everyone in the arts community, not just a select few.
The previous morning I’d seen Non-Fiction on its opening day at FilmScene; that afternoon I’d spent nearly six hours interviewing community members; and that evening I’d attended American Artist’s talk at PS1. Tabling the following day seemed to only reinforce my belief that this is a vibrant, thriving arts community that we get to live in and explore on a daily basis. When my two-hour shift ended at 8:30pm, the screen for Grease was up, though the film was not yet playing. The blank canvas felt like the perfect metaphor for us to paint this city in the artistic colors we all see fit. We get to make this picture, this community what we want it to be.