Community

Strengthen Grow Evolve campaign brings in $4.6 million for Iowa City arts groups

Joint fundraising venture between Englert, FilmScene raised much of its money before coronavirus hit

A FilmScene sign hangs on the corner of the Chauncey building in August 2019 in Iowa City. Money from a joint fundraisin
A FilmScene sign hangs on the corner of the Chauncey building in August 2019 in Iowa City. Money from a joint fundraising campaign with the Englert Theatre will allow FilmScene to build out the third theater in its new space on the first floor of the Chauncey. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — In April 2019, the Englert Theatre and FilmScene embarked on a fundraising campaign known as Strengthen Grow Evolve.

The goal of the campaign was to raise $6.5 million to be split equally between the two nonprofit arts organizations. The campaign kicked off by raising $56,000 on its public launch day and secured another $1 million from the city of Iowa City shortly thereafter.

What’s happened since

The Englert and FilmScene had hoped to throw a public celebration to mark the anniversary of launching Strengthen Grow Evolve.

“Obviously, things have changed,” said Andrew Sherburne, associate director for FilmScene. “The world has changed.”

While the arts and entertainment industry is suffering across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, progress on the Strengthen Grow Evolve campaign shows that support for local arts organizations remains strong. Andre Perry, executive director for the Englert Theatre, said the campaign pulled in nearly $4.6 million in confirmed pledges, grants and anticipated tax credits in its first 13 months. That’s 71 percent of the goal.

“We believed in the campaign,” Perry said. “It turned out the support has been really phenomenal for the whole effort.”

Perry said that level of support shows that the community approves of the direction the Englert and FilmScene are taking.

The campaign continues even as the Englert and FilmScene have been unable to host shows, movies or other events because of COVID-19. However, Perry still is seeing the silver lining at a dark time.

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“We’re really lucky that we were able to raise the bulk of the funds before everything crashed and came to a halt,” he said. “It means most of the projects we wanted to get done are going to get done.”

With the funds already raised, Perry and Sherburne said they’re able to kick off historic preservation work at both the Englert and FilmScene’s original space on the Pedestrian Mall. Work at the Englert should begin later this month. The funds also will allow FilmScene to build out the third theater in its new space on the first floor of the Chauncey.

Sherburne said FilmScene’s opening in September 2019 at the Chauncey was a boon to the overall campaign.

“I think that facility is a beacon to downtown,” he said. “It’s brought new people in. We’ve had contributions from people who weren’t well acquainted with our organizations. It’s a representation of all the hard work that we’ve done and how this community values the arts.”

There’s more to be done and funded, Perry said. Once the campaign reaches its goal, Perry said the organizations would like to hire a community engagement director to connect local arts organizations with educational opportunities and strengthen their connections in the area. FilmScene also plans to complete negotiations that would see the organization fully own its space. Perry said there’s also a “dream audio upgrade” he’d love to see happen at the Englert.

COVID-19 or not, Perry and Sherburne said they haven’t lost sight of their $6.5 million goal or their mission of providing arts and entertainment to the community.

“I think this time has really been difficult, but it’s reinforced the purpose of this campaign,” Sherburne said. “The long-term health of the arts is critical to the community we all love.”

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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