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    Monday, January 24, 2005

    The Englert - A Digression - A Response

    This was going to go in the comments, but it became so damn long I decided to just make it a post.


    I like Leo Kottke. Had the performance been on a weekend, I would have considered going. And for all the reasons Eric Kerchner cites in the PC article, the Englert would be the perfect venue for a performer like Leo Kottke. Had Mr. Kerchner phrased it that way, I’d have no quarrel with what he said. But he didn’t. He said that Kottke was the perfect Englert show. And there is a world of difference between saying the Englert is the perfect venue for the show and saying Kottke was the perfect performer for the Englert.

    (And just as an aside, the Paramount in Cedar Rapids, the Five Flags Center in Dubuque, and the Adler in Davenport would all be as intimate as the Englert and almost as beautiful. On the other hand, none of these facilities are probably willing to host a show by the Iowa City Sweet Adelines or the Iowa City Community Theatre. But I digress.)

    (And just as another aside, it was less than a year ago that Mr. Kerchner told me that he didn’t think live music acts should perform at the Englert. There’s no money in live music, he said. If you think the theatre community of Iowa City is upset about the direction the Englert is taking, you should talk to the how the live music community in Iowa City feels about it. But again, I digress.)

    Would people attending the Kottke concert think it was petty nit-picking? Perhaps those with no understanding of the history of the Englert would. But that wouldn’t make them right. And that wouldn’t change the fact that there are a lot of people, people who were closely involved in the process for a long time, people who gave of their money, of their skills, and of their time, who wouldn’t think it was petty nit-picking.

    As I pointed out in the letter, as Kris has pointed out at Random Mentality, the Englert was designed to be a community performance space. It was designed to be a facility that could be used first and foremost by local artists. We knew that we would have to bring in touring acts to help us meet budget. But those acts were to be a supplement, not the main course.

    (As a final aside, unless you’ve got some definition of community hiding in your pocket that isn’t in any dictionary, how can “community arts” be anything but local artists and performers? I love Jimmy Buffet, but just because he would be recognized and appreciated by a lot of people in the area if he performed at the Englert, that doesn't make a Jimmy Buffet performance community arts.)

    And that notion of a community performance space is what was sold to the public. Would kids have held penny-fundraisers at their schools to help open a Little Hancher in downtown Iowa City? Would people have opened checkbooks and wallets all over town at a time when two other major capital fundraising campaigns were going on to build another professional facility in Iowa City? But that notion of a community performance space wasn’t just a key part of the personal fundraising, it was a key part of all aspects of the fundraising. The community performance space was an integral part of obtaining 501(c)(3) tax status (status as a non-profit organization) which was essential to convincing donors to contribute. (I know. I wrote the 501(c)(3) application and dealt with the IRS during the application process to receive the non-profit status.) The community performance space was an important element of the Englert receiving Vision Iowa funds. I know for a fact that there is concern among some current members of the Englert Board that they will risk losing non-profit status and have to return the Vision Iowa funds if there are not enough community artists using the facility.

    If the Englert Board had made the decision to pursue the idea of a community performance space and, having pursued it, found out that it wasn’t feasible, I wouldn’t have any problem with what is being done. It’s the fact that they weren’t even willing to pursue the idea and the fact that the public face of the facility is so openly antagonistic towards that idea that frustrates me. I know I’m not alone in this, and I know the number who feel the same way is growing every day.

    1 comment:

    Editor said...

    Allow me to revise and extend my remarks.

    After a post by Random regarding what's being booked at the Englert and the rates for groups, I'd like to say that the original letter to the editor now *is* a good idea, but only in the context of being sent after some good investigative journalism by somebody at the P-C or the Daily Idiot - or a blogger with a lot of time on their hands.

    The 50 groups cited early on by the Englert brass as possible customers of the stage space ought to be called and asked again how often they would use the space at the rates currently advertised.

    That's assuming most of the 50 groups cited originally indicate that the Englert's rates are too high for their participation.