116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Big-ticket shows reap big benefits for Hancher Auditorium audiences, but they come with a price that’s not always covered by ticket sales alone --- challenging Hancher staff to raise the funds needed to stage world-class arts experiences inside and outside its Iowa City walls.
Emerging from a pandemic that shuttered much of its 2020-21 season — while also living with the first year of a phased withdrawal of funding support from its campus, the University of Iowa — Hancher’s staff has had to rethink its business model. The UI announced the lessening support for Hancher among other cuts in June 2020 as the institution tried to cope with losses due to COVID-19 and cuts in state appropriations.
The arts are worth the investment in time and money, Chuck Swanson, Hancher’s executive director, said. Hancher has a reputation to maintain among artists, agents and audiences, and an educational mission to fulfill.
And so the nearly 50-year institution marches forward into a new season, announced Sunday night during American Ballet Theatre’s outdoor performance in front of the state-of-the-art building.
“The Band’s Visit, winner of 10 Tony Awards in 2018, is coming for a visit. As are the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Pops, the musicals “Waitress” and “An Officer and a Gentleman,” the Jazz at Lincoln Center Quintet — and the gigantic Big Splash celebration bridging the power of the arts and the power of the Iowa River that has been both Hancher’s friend and foe.
But planning a Hancher season involves more than making big splashes for the not-for-profit organization’s bottom line — even with decreasing financial support from the UI.
The university plans to gradually step back financial support over three years, moving Hancher to be self-sustaining by its 2023-24 season. The UI withheld $200,000 of its usual $1.5 million in salary support for the 2020-21 season, forcing Hancher to dip into its “rainy day” fund to make up the shortfall when much of the revenue-generating season was canceled due to the pandemic, Swanson said.
During the upcoming 2021-22 season, the UI will scale back $500,000, followed by $800,000 in 2022-23; and all of its previous $1.5 million in financial support thereafter.
That move doesn’t change Hancher’s need to sustain its core values and purpose.
“Our mission is still enriching lives through the transformative power of the performing arts,” he said.
That, and its “people first” motto.
“When we work with artists, one of the first things that we ask when they’re here for residencies, is: ‘What can you do with University of Iowa students? How can we work with faculty? How can we work with K through 12th-graders — and people of all ages?’ We’re really committed to using the arts as a way for people to learn about the world.”
So one of the first moves they made in light of the funding cut was to seek input from staff members to map out a new financial future.
Hancher’s annual budget is about $4 to $5 million, Swanson said, with programming running between $2 and $2.5 million. Ticket sales cover about 45 to 60 percent, with the balance coming from donations, grants and interest on endowments. Hancher’s programming expenses have always been self-supported, Swanson added.
“The balance of the budget is salaries, and operational expenses for the building, box office, production, administrative, computers and front of house. The UI pays the utility bill. We have covered these expenses with appropriated funds (which we are losing), building rentals and box office fees.”
Uniting the staff to reconfigure the business model was vital, seeking input from administration to building maintenance.
“Hancher means a lot to all of us,” Swanson said. “So we developed a work plan,” examining every aspect of revenue and expense.
Hancher audiences will be absorbing some of those changes. Now that the new season has been announced, Hancher will issue a letter outlining increases in ticket prices, building rental fees and changes in donor levels to reflect the need to make up for the decrease in support.
“None of this has been taken lightly,” Swanson said. “We have really struggled, but we did take our time to try to do this as thoughtfully as we really could.
“But it is course-altering action, because $1.5 million for an arts presenting organization like a Hancher on a university campus — that’s a big deal to us. That’s a lot of money. It’s not just one year; it’s every year.”
Thinking large and small, Hancher is embarking on an endowment campaign to provide a safety net and financial support from the interest it generates. And patrons will be able to buy covered cups so they can take beverages into the auditorium during shows.
“There’s almost a staging to it,” Swanson said. “It’s impossible to create a total makeover right away with an institution like a Hancher. We want to stay committed as a source of teaching and learning,” while still making programming accessible across interest and income levels.
“Another thing that’s so important about Hancher is the collaborative spirit,” he said, “things that we do reaching out to work with other people. It boils down to impact, too.
“Hancher always has added to the world and what’s happening in the world. Diversity, equity and inclusion — those are important things that every season we find ways to raise opportunities for discussion, and for people to really learn more about the world and more about themselves and more about each other,” he said.
“The arts require support, but yet the arts are significant. The arts are so important to the world and to institutions and to communities and to people.”
Hancher’s mission involves bringing the artists to people and people to the arts.
“The arts are central. In a lot of ways, they’re a necessity,” Swanson said. “They can help in such a big way,” in healing and in creating community and memories. “And we’re going to make sure that Hancher does play that role. It’s a wise investment through the arts.”
28: Quixotic, “Hancher Illuminated,” 8:30, 9:00, 9:30, 10, 10:30 p.m., outdoors
11: Step Afrika!, “Drumfolk,” a Hancher co-commission, 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
27: Bill Nye, collaboration with the University of Iowa Lecture Committee, 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
29: Gretchen Rubin, collaboration with the UI College of Law, 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
22-23: “Waitress,” 7:30 p.m. Friday, 1 and 6:30 Saturday, Auditorium
27: Boston Pops on Tour, “Lights, Camera … Music! Six Decades of John Williams,” 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
5: Bill Irwin, “On Beckett,” 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
12: Hermitage Piano Trio, 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
18: Jazz at Lincoln Center Quintet, “Let Freedom Swing,” 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., Club Hancher in Strauss Hall
4: Storm Large, “Holiday Ordeal,” 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
9: Straight No Chaser, 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
11-12: Brunch with Santa, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. Sunday, Stanley Café
19: “An Officer and a Gentleman,” musical, 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
16: Roomful of Teeth — Collaboration: School of Music/Ann Howard Jones Vocal Residency Program, 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
18: Mark Morris Dance Group, “Pepperland,” 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
20: Castalian String Quartet — Collaboration: the University of Iowa String Quartet Residency Program, 3 p.m., Auditorium
9: The Philadelphia Orchestra, 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
10: Damien Sneed, “A Tribute to Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul,” 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
1: Danish String Quartet, 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
6-7: “The Band’s Visit,” 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
13: Steve Kroft — Collaboration: University of Iowa College of Law, 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
23: Jazz at Lincoln Center Quintet, returning with “Let Freedom Swing,” 1 and 3 p.m., Kids Club Hancher in Strauss Hall
30: Kronos Quartet, “At War With Ourselves — 400 Years of You,” 7:30 p.m. Auditorium
7: Las Cafeteras, 7:30 p.m., Auditorium
26-28: The Big Splash! — Collaboration: City of Iowa, IIHR ——Hydroscience & Engineering, and College of Engineering, Outdoors, details to come
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