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Setting the stage for more community collaboration in the arts

Setting the stage for more community collaboration in the arts

When William and Etta Englert built the theater bearing their name at the site of an old livery stable in 1912, they opened the door to what would become a legacy of arts appreciation in Iowa City.

In its early days, The Englert Theatre hosted vaudeville and live stage acts as well as projecting silent films. Now more than 100 years later, The Englert's marquee is still a hallmark of the city's arts landscape and the theater itself is a vital hub of the arts community. Hosting musical performances and plays, comedians and authors and a variety of arts festivals, The Englert Theatre provides big-city entertainment in a mid-sized community

Providing an outlet for UI creativity

Part of The Englert's success lies in the continuing strong support of the arts at the University of Iowa, said Andre Perry, The Englert's executive director. 'The University of Iowa has been an incubator of sorts,' Perry said. 'It's taken creative practice so seriously, from the writing programs to the art schools to dance and theater, that while the students are studying their crafts on campus they're looking for outlets outside of campus, as well.'

'The university continues to bring a lot of people into its orbit,' he said. 'It has seeded the area with a really strong appreciation for the arts.'

Looking to the future

It's that appreciation and support for the arts that Perry and Andrew Sherburne, FilmScene's interim executive director and co-founder, are leaning on as they embark on the final chapter of a fundraising campaign to support both venues. The $6 million Strengthen Grow Evolve campaign is designed to help sustain existing programming and infrastructure at both organizations. For FilmScene, it's meant the creation of a new space in downtown's newest high rise, The Chauncey; for The Englert, it includes major renovations and enhancements.

Included in The Englert's renovations are:

Renovation of the historic marquee

Upgrades to the theater's HVAC system

Updates to the building's façade and roof

Repair of the back wall of the theater, which had been damaged in a fire

Renovation and expansion of the second floor which will allow for larger gatherings

Making life better for the community

All of the work, Perry said, will help strengthen not only each organization, but the arts community as a whole. 'We're arts organizations, but at our core we're community-building organizations, and our question, on a daily basis, is, 'How can we make life in this area better than it is,'' Perry said. 'How can we provide more access to hopefully lifechanging events, how can we create more opportunities for people to meet their neighbors or go somewhere with their neighbors and engage and feel happy about living here?

That's what we're doing.' If the Strengthen Grow Evolve campaign reaches its ultimate goal, plans are in the works to hire a new community engagement director to help the staff of The Englert and FilmScene to develop even more opportunities for the public to get involved and engaged with the local arts community.

'It will be this person's job to wake up every day and think about the programming we bring to this area and how best to engage every citizen of this community,' Sherburne said. 'Someone to think about partnerships with the schools, partnerships with community groups, who can think about the educational opportunities that come with each and every event we put on stage or we play on the screen.'

Realizing the combined strength of working together to strengthen the arts community, The Englert and FilmScene are also working with other arts organizations in the area. 'The Strengthen Grow Evolve campaign and our two organizations have helped to found Iowa City's new Downtown Arts Alliance, which is a consortium of several arts organizations,' Sherburne said. 'Collaboration is essential,' he said. 'I think this community sees the value in collaboration. And that's what has gotten us to where we are.'

To learn more about and support the Strengthen Grow Evolve campaign, go online to

The Englert

221 E. Washington St.

Iowa City

The historic Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City is being renovated both inside and out in a joint Strengthen Grow Evolve campaign with FilmScene. (photos courtesy The Englert)