I am sending everyone warm vibes as we continue to navigate a difficult period of instability. Our institution, despite everything around us, continues to sustain and it’s because of your guidance, support, and donations of all sizes that have buoyed our efforts during the pandemic.
That support isn’t surprising. The Englert has always been the people’s theater. We serve you. Sometimes we are successful, other times we miss the mark, but we are always here working for you in our quest to build a better community through the arts.
For real, it’s distressing to read the news and these past weeks have been increasingly depressing on innumerable fronts. And that’s why we need the arts. The arts offer a respite from the world. The arts offer community. The arts offer truth: they illuminate the complexities of life on Earth, in both its regrettable cruelty and remarkable beauty.
The arts are our path toward understanding, toward connection, and the key to experiencing the joys of existence.
On that note, I have some memories to share… try this one: musician Jon Batiste on January 21st, 2014 at The Englert Theatre. From the moment he rolled into the hall, we were like, Dude is on a different plane. He radiated palpable vibes, like Sedona vibes. I know it sounds wild, but he was literally breathing in the history of the room as he walked through the seats, up the aisle, and onto the stage. He sat down at the grand piano, it almost seemed like he was talking to the instrument and channeling its energy from another world into ours; his fingers across the keyboard affecting a tonal mood that elicited the bombast and genius of Duke, the urgency and vision of Stevie. Jon was nodding his head and saying, Yeah, this is going to be good. And yes, that evening was life-altering. There were maybe 300 people there and by the end of the night we were all on the orchestra floor dancing with Jon as he played offstage, on the floor, with us–he led a celebration of music and community that spanned 100 years of joyous and painful American history. And then there was Ta-Nehisi Coates sitting onstage on another night talking aloud in the language of deeply-considered essays, trying to help us understand, walk us through the difficulties of American history from a different angle. Ta-Nehisi slumped in his chair, his eyes weary, his body carrying the weight of our national spiritual debt as he parsed through the complexities of living on this land. And, yes, Margaret Cho and Tig Notaro did similar work in different ways on separate occasions. And Phillip Glass and Kronos Quartet and Kamasi Washington and the queen of us all, Sharon Jones, they had a different language for helping us understand, for helping us transcend. And Danez Smith… damn, Danez Smith in all their majesty… they told us straight-up–onstage surrounded by silence and awe–that we must keep searching, we must always keep searching for truth.
Your memories, I understand might be different, and I relish in the joy and learning they carry within you!
I have worked at the Englert–in service to artists, the arts, and the possibilities of our community–for 11 years. That’s a long time. Whether in writing or not, the mission really has always been to inspire and activate positive community growth. We’ve had some big wins: no doubt, we booked some rad shows (Father John Misty on Easter Sunday!), developed two festivals (people still don’t understand what Witching Hour is and that’s the point!!), led a capital campaign with FilmScene and renovated the Englert, FilmScene on the Ped Mall, and built FilmScene at The Chauncey, and most recently reworked our mission, vision, and values to reflect the evolution and learning an arts & community organization must embrace in these critical times.
We also had some real stumbles during my time here: I mean how do we still not have more (any?) culturally-specific institutions existing/thriving in our downtown and why is it still so damn hard to actually BE AN ARTIST in this town with high rents and a lack of practice/studio/gathering space? I realize the Englert can’t deliver everything, but it’s our responsibility to try; through it all, my drive has always been to get better at listening to the community and trying to get us closer to the dream of Iowa City that we project (I mean, yearn for) rather than what we are actually delivering at this time. To be clear: we still have a gap to close, because not everyone feels held here, not everyone has access to opportunity, not everyone feels loved. But we are moving forward even if it never feels quite fast enough.
The biggest moment of my tenure is my next step: I am moving on from my position of executive leadership and opening up the room for new visionary voices to elevate the foundations that my colleagues and I have been building since 2010. (Respect due: We built those foundations on the initial promise of the Englert when it first opened in 1912.)
My last day as Executive Director will be Monday, September 13th.
My dear friend and colleague John Schickedanz (Marketing Director) will ascend to the role of Interim Executive Director and lead this journey into new chapters. My fantastic senior team partners–Jessica Egli (events), Katie Roche (fundraising), and Sarah Shonrock (front of house)–will continue to drop science in their respective leadership roles. And my peoples in production, marketing, and front of house–Craig Owsley, Elly Hofmaier, Gabi Vanek, Ioannis Alexakis, and Merric Bower–will continue to actually make the ART HAPPEN. And our curators/producers-in-residence–Brian Johannesen (Dead Coast), Christopher Wiersema (Feed Me Weird Things), and Nina Lohman (Brink)–will ensure that Mission Creek Festival is always an ART HAPPENING. And our collective guru, Bill Thomasson, is always there, in person and spirit, telling us the truth (i.e., cash flow projections) so that we have enough funding to keep MAKING ART HAPPEN.
Keep watching because this team is about to make this amazing arts organization FLY.
I am so grateful to you–Iowa City in concept as well as the actual people–for bearing with me for over a decade and offering me space and opportunity to help shape our cultural future. You gave me license to experiment, seek new heights, to envision what our collective dream might look like. This has been a fantastic journey.
If you know me, you know I don’t stay still for long. I will be back soon with new ideas, new projects, new questions for how we might move forward.
There is a more official version of my goodbye words to be found here, but this letter serves as a better format for me to say: I love you and I’m here for you, fam.
Let’s keep building the Greatest Small City for the Arts. (Still so much to do; we’re moving in the right direction.)
Executive Director of The Englert Theatre, 2010-2021
Co-Founder: Mission Creek Festival, Witching Hour, and Writers of Color Reading Series
Iowa City resident since 2005!