The Arts Scene in Iowa City (Part II)

Information on our Summer 2020 internships to come soon. You can review Summer 2019 internship details here.   

As I mentioned in my previous post, a great deal of my job as community participation researcher for The Englert is to attend arts events around Iowa City. It almost feels like I’m cheating because I go to programming that I would already be interested in attending anyway. But I promise that it’s truly invaluable to the research that Hannah and I have been doing. 

Sengoko performs at Iowa City Yacht Club
Sengoko performs at Iowa City Yacht Club

Public Space One recently facilitated summer residencies for several local artists, and I attended the open house which showcased much of the work that was made in these residencies. I also went to three more music shows, two at Trumpet Blossom and one at the Yacht Club. The latter show was particularly enlightening as concerns our research. Derek Torres (aka “Sengoko” on the stage) is a musician originally from Texas and Georgia who played his first set ever in Iowa City that night at the Yacht Club. And, although he’s lived here for less than a year, he introduced himself as “Sengoko from Iowa City.” I was particularly struck by this intro because it reveals how dynamic and inviting the local arts community can be. An artist can move here and, in less than a year, feel like Iowa City is their home even before their first performance. But the fact remains that Sengoko’s almost immediate connection to the arts scene is not a reality for many local artists. In many conversations, people revealed to us that they didn’t feel supported by the local community and expressed hope that The Englert and other arts institutions can take steps to address this problem. If the work Hannah and I have done can at least preliminarily point to some solutions, I will consider this summer a success.

Tomorrow is my last day at The Englert and it’s a little melancholic. Grad school is supposed to be an opportunity for networking and forming connections, but I honestly feel like I’ve done more of that here in two months than in my previous four years in a PhD program. It’s easy in my studies to get quite insular and antisocial, but the HPG internship for The Englert has shown me how untenable the ivory tower model is for humanities PhDs. If we are going to devote our lives to studying arts and culture, we need to be constantly experiencing and participating in that culture.