Joe Tiefenthaler and Katie Roche, guest columnists
“Independence now and independence forever!” — John Adams, Speech to Congress, July 1, 1776
As families and communities gather together this weekend to celebrate Independence Day in our still imperfect and evolving nation, we look at how our work can impact our community, how the arts can help strengthen, grow and evolve, and we make a declaration of own: we are building the greatest small city for the arts in America, right here in Iowa.
Iowa City is already fortunate to be rich with cultural opportunities, so what does it mean to strive to be the greatest?
It means strengthening our artistic venues, preserving and modernizing historic spaces like The Englert Theatre, a century-old building we want to last for another 100 years.
It means growing our spaces and our stature by building the midwest’s most state-of-the-art cinema, FilmScene’s new 3-screen facility in The Chauncey project.
It means growing the impact of our festivals: Mission Creek Festival, an annual celebration of music, literature and a diverse range of art forms; Witching Hour, a convergence of working artists and curious community members engaging with the artistic process; and Refocus Film Festival, which we intend to launch in the near future to celebrate our city’s rich literary tradition as it translates to the big screen.
It means evolving our education efforts to demand an “A for Arts” in S.T.E.A.M. education and do more of the work of engaging our schools and community organizations with the amazing art and artists that come to our spaces.
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It means evolving the way we engage our community inside AND outside our walls and ensuring our diverse communities all feel welcome and engaged in the multitude of arts presented by our organizations.
And what of “independence?”
The arts world is dominated by media conglomerates that often attempt to make artistic choices for us. But independent artists and arts organizations demand that the choice remains in the hands of the audience.
Independence means over 300 feature films a year at FilmScene, many of which would not otherwise play in our region. American indies, documentaries, international films, classics of all sensibilities — something for everyone.
Independence means over 200 performances and events at the Englert, a wide array range of opportunities to gather for lectures, dance, theater or music — sometimes intimate, sometimes standing room only.
Independence means favoring films for their artistic quality over the box office (though we do succeed in keeping a balanced budget). It means favoring opportunities to engage audiences in conversation rather than overwhelm with blockbuster special effects.
It means choosing onstage performers both for their ability to draw a crowd as well as their ability to connect us to our world.
It means educating, engaging, and enriching as well as entertaining.
This is what a declaration of arts independence is about: life-changing arts experiences, liberty to make your own choices, and the pursuit of happiness as we laugh and sing together in a darkened theater.
Together, these initiatives ensure that our communities remain vital, vibrant and relevant. It is a commitment to be sure our citizens are happier and wiser. It ensures this is a place we want to make a life, where we can grow old, raise new generations, and keep them home.
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With our help, the arts will have a secure future in Iowa City and push our cultural community forward through expanded collaboration and a vision to support other nonprofits, working artists, and the lifelong learners in our neighborhoods. That’s how we become the greatest.
FilmScene and The Englert Theatre are proud to be independent nonprofit arts organizations serving over 120,000 patrons every year. Together with our communities, we’re working to ensure that these values will be upheld for future generations.
Support arts independence at www.strengthengrowevolve.org, and help us build the greatest small city for the arts.
• Joe Tiefenthaler is executive director at FilmScene and Katie Roche is development director at the The Englert Theatre