Iowa City education programs hope to create the best city for the arts

Iowa City is quickly becoming one of the best cities for the arts, thanks in no small part to a robust offering of arts education initiatives from FilmScene and The Englert Theatre. These two organizations are deep into a partnership to take those offerings to the next level. This partnership comes in the form of an ambitious $6.5 million project to improve their respective venues and offerings to continue to strengthen, grow, and evolve the arts scene in Iowa City.

Whether you’re a parent looking for a summer camp for your child, or seeking to expand your own knowledge of film or theater, FilmScene and the Englert have put together a collection of educational programs to help people of all ages engage with and learn from, various forms of art.

FilmScene’s animation camp, headed by Mark Jones, started small but has grown quickly, offering camps for students from 3rd grade through high school. In this camp, kids don’t simply learn the fundamentals of animation, but actually walk away having designed, shot, and completed multiple animated shorts.

Jones is excited to see this growth continue into the future. "What started as just 4 weeks, we've expanded to 10 or more weeks of camp running consecutively. They also do spring camps and they'll also be expanding to do single day camps on days when there's no school. They're continuing to expand and there's even talk of doing adult animation camp for a weekend.”

“FilmScene has done their animation camp for a while and they have multiple weeks, it started out very small and they’ve been able to gain the trust of the community and they’ve proved to have a good program that’s worthwhile and it’s valuable,” says The Englert Theatre’s events director Jessica Egli. “My little camp is just getting started, but next summer I’m going to expand from one week to three weeks and multiple age groups and I’m able to do that because my camp has been successful for two years and parents that have sent their kids to my camp know that it’s a worthwhile experience.”

Education is a major focus of Egli’s work at the Englert, where many of her education programs are part of the series, “Englert Wavelength” which promotes deeper learning through the arts. She says her involvement in Wavelength came from an interest in Iowa City’s student population and “passion for education in general” following the creation of her summer camp, Acting Out!. “It’s how I’m helping to contribute to the campaign’s promise to better engage the community through arts education and the ‘evolve’ portion of the campaign.”

With so many organizations bringing diverse education offerings to the Iowa City community, some programs have inadvertently found themselves in competition for students’ time and attention, but thanks to Strengthen • Grow • Evolve, Egli says there’s a heightened level of awareness and collaboration where the programs are more complementary than competitive: “to be able to find some common ground and utilize what other people are already doing in the community and try to make some kind of united program, I feel like Wavelength can help spark that.”

Rebecca Fons, FilmScene’s director of programming and head of education, has ensured there’s ways for people of all ages to engage with, and learn from, the art of film. Thanks to the opening of FilmScene’s new location at The Chauncey, these offerings are only going to improve. One of Fons’ programs is a high school film club, “Scenesters,” which give teenagers a way to be exposed to more movies and learn to discuss films as art but she also says they get to learn about the financial side “film is art and storytelling but also business and they get to learn about that.” She’s also creating courses aimed at adults, one of which is currently focusing on documentary filmmaking and its various forms from mockumentary to more narrative-driven documentaries.

For college students, FilmScene partners with the Bijou Film Board at The University of Iowa where executive director Molly Bagnall works with Fons to find obscure indie and foreign films appropriate for UI’s film students and hobbyists. By partnering with FilmScene, Bijou members learn not only how to run an independent arthouse cinema and the business realities involved, but Bagnall also says she’s proud that Bijou is “the only student organization that offers multiple cultural events to students each week for free.”

Heather Spangler, University of Iowa’s event management certificate coordinator says her partnership with both organizations has been invaluable to her and her students. “FilmScene and the Englert have been exceptional partners for us on multiple occasions. They provide opportunities for our students to learn form strong mentors and to practice our classroom concepts by putting on and volunteering with real events.”

The Englert Theatre also partners with Spangler and UI to offer more hands-on experience through internship programs all of which Spangler says are essential opportunities for students outside the classroom: “real-world experiences like these are invaluable for our students and our program.”

Spangler also says the Englert’s staff contribute to education in a classroom environment, even leading their own courses. “This semester students are learning from Egli. She's teaching a course called Festival Productions and is giving her students a really neat look under the hood of the Witching Hour festival as well as giving them some hands-on opportunities to impact the event. The Englert's Executive Director Andre Perry has also served as an adjunct instructor for us and taught an American Music Festivals course incorporating hands-on experiences with the Mission Creek Festival.” 

With FilmScene’s new expansion into The Chauncey, Fons is excited to meet an ever growing demand. “The Strengthen • Grow • Evolve campaign has been such a splash and people are excited to see what partnership with The Englert Theatre really means. So our summer camps have filled up faster than they ever have and we have so many new campers.”

Egli is excited for what the campaign will bring in the future: “As long as we are providing quality programming I think that’s the biggest thing and make sure whatever we provide is worth the money parents pay for their kids, or adults if it’s an adult program it’s truly a life changing, valuable experience artistically.”


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