The Englert Theatre’s strong voice for arts advocacy has grown even stronger.
The performing arts venue in downtown Iowa City joined the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) shortly after the New York-based arts advocacy group was formed in March, when so many venue doors were closing because of the pandemic. At the end of 2020, Englert Executive Director Andre Perry, 43, of Iowa City, was named to the NIVA board of directors, joining others from across the country in virtual discussions.
Q: How does NIVA serve venues like the Englert?
A: I think in this moment, the organization is really trying to ensure that venues across the country have the financial support they need to bridge through the pandemic.
Going into the future, I think the organization will be there to help with advocacy efforts from local to national, to help build community among these independent venues and promoters cross the country, and to help make them better and provide the resources so that our institutions can actually be better, can be more diverse and a safer and more inclusive music industry.
Q: What is the “Save Our Stages” effort and what stages will it serve?
A: That was the public name for the effort to get Congress to include support for venues like this in the latest stimulus. And so it was one of the areas where there was a lot of bipartisan support. It was really led by NIVA, and there was a lot of work from Dayna Frank, who’s the president of the (NIVA) board and the owner of First Avenue (entertainment venue) in Minneapolis.
So it was pushed by NIVA, but as it developed, NIVA was really open to bringing in a lot of other related industries: independent movie theaters were brought into it, museums were brought into it, a bigger range of arts organizations were brought into it.
And so I think it became this effort to really tie a lot of different strands of the arts together under a common cause, which doesn’t happen very frequently on the national field. It’s really a positive accomplishment.
Q: When do you think the Englert will see funds from that?
A: I have no predictions coming out. We don’t know.
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Q: What have been your revenue streams through the pandemic? I know about the $10,000 Iowa Arts Council Virtual Arts Experience Grant and $62,000 state grant from the recent federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) program. Have you had other large revenue streams or how do you keep the lights on?
A: It’s obviously been a challenging period for us, just from looking at the numbers, doing what we usually do. It’s coming along different forms. There’s been an acceleration of grant opportunities, at least in 2020. So we try to participate in as many of those as possible.
You named some of them. The state CARES money was really significant. We did get a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts — that was also CARES-funded. We also received a grant from Arts Midwest, which is our regional arts organization based in Minnesota, and that was funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation and some other funders.
We were able to participate in the first round of the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), which was really crucial to keeping folks on payroll and helping with some other payments. And then we did take out a loan via the EIDL (COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan) program. That’s a loan, so we’ll be paying that back, but it’s definitely crucial in terms of the cash flow bridge to make sure we got from one day to the next.
Those are some really core sources, just like our community has been supportive. The Community Foundation helped out a lot of nonprofits this year in Johnson County. And individual donors and small businesses have been extremely supportive. So it’s just kind of putting everything together that we can, and that’s how we made it through 2020. And 2021 is (not without) its challenges, but we’re still just grateful that we were able to get through the year, preserve the organization and be able to phase 2021 in and continue to exist.
It was a long year, but we’re glad that we’re here.
Q: You’ve just wrapped up the public giving phase of the Strengthen Grow Evolve campaign on Dec. 31, raising nearly $5.4 million. You were seeking $6.5 million. Are you still hoping to reach that goal?
A: The campaign was designed as a progressive growth plan for Englert, for FilmScene, and perhaps in a larger sense for our whole arts culture in Iowa City. ...
And then as the pandemic kind of collided, we went back and we really just boiled it down to what has to happen now or we can’t exist. So that included the preservation project at the Englert; preserving Scene 1, the original FilmScene; the build-out of the Chauncey project for FilmScene; and an arts access study that we’re doing for Johnson County, to better understand how the arts are supporting or not really supporting, different communities across the county.
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Q: How have you pivoted and how have you kept going during the pandemic?
A: The Englert spent 2020 — part of it was figuring out how to survive, part of it was working on this campaign and as part of that, renovations to the building.
But the other part of it was accepting, OK, this is a reality for now. So how can we continue to deliver our mission under these conditions? We kept on asking ourselves that question throughout 2020 and in doing so, we did a lot of experiments.
We launched our first-ever podcast. We did some video arts education programs in our first-ever virtual festival, Witching Hour. And we started producing a film, a socially-distanced film (“Ghost Creek”), which is coming out (Feb. 16).
Those were amazing arts projects for us, but they were also training for our whole team to figure out how we could produce community-focused art without having shows. And so what you’re going to see in the next couple of weeks is that Englert is going to announce a full digital season of programs that we’re going to be doing for the community for this year.
We just kind of cut our teeth in 2020. ... We’re actually really busy right now. Our team is just hustling to get this all done. ...
We, of course, are really hoping that we can get back to the live engagement that we love. But we’re not just going to sit idle during this time. We’re going to keep pushing forward, learning new skills, learning how to do our work a little bit better.
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