116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect more information provided Saturday by the University of Iowa.
IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa will continue to make an annual allocation of $750,000 to Hancher Auditorium’s facilities and maintenance costs, even though it is in the process of weaning the venue off a $1.5 million contribution by 2024 of general education funding used for salaries and benefits.
The university’s $750,000 annual contribution was specified Friday in a UI news release about the future of the performing arts venue. That contribution was not mentioned in a July 10, 2000, news release saying the university would be cutting back its general education support for Hancher to become “a self-sustaining unit on campus, like the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, University Housing and Dining, or UI Health Care” as part of wider cutbacks forced by the pandemic.
The news came as part of a larger announcement about the creation of a new UI Office of Performing Arts and Engagement that will house a re-branded “Hancher Presents,” which is intended to expand its reach to “potential venues across the university and Iowa City area to further enable arts engagement.”
The news release reported Hancher Presents will “take up the mantle of what has historically been considered the ‘Hancher season,’” officials didn’t detail how Hancher would engage other venues — whether it will own, operate or collaborate with them, or which venues will be involved.
“We sometimes tend to think of Hancher as the building,” Peter Matthes, UI vice president for external relations and senior adviser to the president, said in a statement. “But its reach goes far beyond that beautiful performance space by the Iowa River. Hancher Presents has great potential to further expand the University of Iowa’s performing arts footprint.”
The new Office of Performing Arts and Engagement, according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication, will expand Hancher’s mission of “supporting and showcasing artists from campus, the community, and around the world.” It will, among other things, elevate Hancher Auditorium’s role “as it grows to become a universitywide hub for the development, production, and presentation of performing arts.”
The new office will report to the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.
Longtime Hancher Auditorium Executive Director Chuck Swanson last month announced plans to retire this summer after 20 years in the role. The university announced plans Friday to find his replacement from within its own ranks by conducting an internal search for a new executive director, who also will lead the new Office of Performing Arts and Engagement.
“We have remarkable talent across our campus,” UI Provost Kevin Kregel in a statement. “I have no doubt we will develop a slate of candidates that has a deep knowledge of our community and our legacy in the performing arts and can quickly get to work bringing this ambitious vision to life.”
Leading the internal search committee will be Kregel, Matthes and Sara Sanders, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The new office will become operational July 1, and a new executive director is expected to begin work during the summer academic session. Details of the new office’s budget weren’t immediately provided to The Gazette.
Officials said Hancher “will continue to transition into a self-sustaining unit,” while also committing to continue providing $750,000 its facilities and maintenance costs.
“Identifying and hiring a seasoned leader to collaborate with our campus and community is the next step in this exciting opportunity to shape the future direction for the performing arts at the University of Iowa,” Kregel said.
Former UI President Bruce Harreld announced in July 2020 that Hancher would need to become self-supported by the 2024 budget year. The campus was facing mounting COVID-19 related losses and budget cuts.
At that time, the UI also announced temporary layoffs for 112 housing and dining workers; frozen pay for about 4,200 employees; 32 vacant positions would go unfilled; and Harreld would cut in half his $590,000 salary for the rest of the year.
The goal, according to Harreld, was to transition Hancher to a self-supported model like its UI Department of Athletics, University Housing and Dining and UI Health Care operations — although UI Athletics last year took a $50 million loan from the main campus to help weather pandemic.
The UI plan announced for Hancher was to gradually scale back financial support over three years — starting with a $200,000 reduction from its usual $1.5 million in salary support for the 2020-21 season. For the current 2021-22 season, the UI would scale back $500,000, followed by $800,000 in 2022-23 and then all $1.5 million after.
But the first cut last year prompted Hancher to dip into its “rainy day” fund as the pandemic squashed most of the 2020-21 revenue-generating season, Swanson said last summer.
He reported, at that time, an annual Hancher budget of between $4 and $5 million, with programming running between $2 and $2.5 million. Supplementing ticket sales — which cover 45 to 60 percent — are donations, grants and endowments. Programming expenses always have been self-supporting, Swanson said at the time.
Upon his retirement announcement, Swanson, who earns $205,500 a year, suggested some of the recent challenges and changes played into his decision to step away, offering the university a chance to bring in “fresh eyes.”
“I’ve always felt like my work, and the work that we’ve done at Hancher — we work to be transformative, to change lives,” he said at the time. “And I’m afraid that we’re going to have to be working more toward a transactional approach.”
Whoever is chosen as his successor will hold the official title of “Chuck Swanson Hancher Executive Director,” according to the university.
Comments: (319) 339-3158; email@example.com