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IOWA CITY — A year away from when Hancher Auditorium was supposed to become self-sustaining — a charge former University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld announced amid pandemic cuts in 2020 — administrators have changed their tune.
In pursuit of a new performing arts vision for the campus that merges a newly-named “Hancher Presents“ into a new Office of Performing Arts and Engagement, UI spokeswoman Tricia Brown said, “The need for general funds to support the operations of the new office will be considered.”
“After the new executive director was hired and plans began moving forward for the new office, it became apparent that the university may need to continue to help fill some funding gaps to enable the plans for the new office to come to fruition,” Brown said.
The UI didn’t share details of how much it might continue allocating from its general fund to Hancher in 2024 or possibly beyond.
For the new budget year that began Friday, the university will continue providing Hancher $1.29 million in general education support — the same amount it provided in the budget year that just ended and in fiscal 2021.
That sustained support is counter to the funding drawdown former Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson described in an interview last summer with The Gazette. At that time, Swanson said he was informed the UI would scale back its annual $1.5 million in Hancher support by $200,000 for the 2021 season, $500,000 in fiscal 2022, $800,000 in 2023 and then entirely by 2024.
Facing $3.1 million in midyear state appropriations cuts in summer 2020, then-UI President Harreld said he was “confident Hancher Auditorium can maintain its standing as national leader among university performing arts centers while transitioning slowly to being self-sustaining.”
And the UI did dial down its general education support for Hancher from $1.6 million in fiscal 2018 and 2019 to $1.5 million in 2020 and $1.3 million in fiscal 2021, according to budgets provided to The Gazette following public records requests.
But the UI allocation to Hancher remained at $1.3 million in the budget year that just ended — a year that saw Swanson announce his retirement and the UI hire Andre Perry to succeed him.
Before taking the reins at Hancher, Perry served as UI director of arts, engagement and inclusion as well as senior adviser to the executive officer of diversity, equity and inclusion. Perry, who also previously served as executive director of The Englert Theatre in Iowa City, not only is executive director of Hancher but of the new UI Office of Performing Arts and Engagement.
Among that office’s aims is collaboration with other venues across the UI and Iowa City. Perry earns a starting annual salary of $210,000 in his new role.
'Activity dropped significantly’
An initial budget for the new UI Office of Performing Arts and Engagement will mirror Hancher’s overall budget in its first fiscal year as Perry works with the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences “to develop the long-term framework for the office,” according to spokeswoman Brown.
“By FY24, the Office of Performing Arts and Engagement aims to have its structure, budget, and programs fully in place,” she said.
A review of Hancher’s budgets over the last five years shows the venue generated more than $8 million in revenue in both 2018 and 2019, coming out ahead of its expenses. When the pandemic hit during the 2020 budget year — from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020 — Hancher’s revenue dropped to $5.5 million, while its $7 million in expenses put it $1.5 million in the red.
Hancher revenue fell even further in the 2021 budget year that started July 1, 2020 — when much of the country and community was under pandemic lockdown or restrictions — to $2.6 million.
With costs that year still over $3.4 million, Hancher was $866,568 in the red. Combined, Hancher’s expenses for fiscal 2020 and 2021 were $2.4 million over its revenue.
Through February of fiscal 2022, Hancher was reporting a slight rebound of $4.8 million in revenue, above its $3.4 million in expenses.
Hancher’s biggest line item annually is revenue and expenses for programming — which primarily encompasses its main attractions and performances. Where the venue made $4.7 million from programming in 2019, that dropped to $2.2 million in fiscal 2020 and just $194,364 in fiscal 2021.
“During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, activity dropped significantly and affected those revenue streams,” Brown said.
Programming revenue for the budget year that just ended — through February — was only up slightly to $420,129, while programming expenses came in at $1.4 million.
“During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hancher committed programming expenditures to virtual programs (like many national arts organizations), to live performances when possible, and to some artist-related fees that could not be recouped even if events were canceled,” Brown said. “It was important for Hancher and the UI to maintain their support of artists and the arts field during one of the most destabilizing periods ever experienced in the performing arts industry.”
Hancher’s budget doesn’t include the annual $750,000 UI plans to continue providing for its facilities and maintenance costs.
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