Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Englert's position

Nancy Mayfield, Marketing & Development Manager for the Englert, sent me this statement concerning the Englert story I wrote about yesterday.

"I know many people are upset about the article in the P-C about the recent letter from the Englert. Unfortunately, the P-C did not tell the entire story. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors REQUESTED a statement from the Englert about how the new theatre might affect our operations. We have all known about the Coralville performing arts center for years and are not trying to halt its progress -- in fact, we hosted the fundraiser for it, "Circle Full of Stars." The intent of the letter was to emphasize how important it will be for both spaces to work together to best serve the community.

Since the letter was sent, (admittedly, sent in a rush because the Supervisors needed it right away), members of the Englert staff and Board have engaged in several conversations with the City of Coralville. Already a lot of good dialogue has been created about what the new theatre's administration will be like, and how the two organizations might support each other. Englert representatives are meeting with the Johnson County Board of Supervisors this Thursday to continue discussions. I look forward to seeing the new theatre grow, and the many wonderful events that will take place there."


The fact that the PC left out the important item that the Board of Supervisors requested the letter changes things a little bit. At least we know now that the Englert wasn't being quite as aggressive as it appeared. But that doesn't change the substance of the actions of (some of) the Englert Board. Now Nancy, whom I know personally and trust completely, says the intent was to "emphasize how important it will be for both spaces to work together to best serve the community." I have copied the letter below. If that was the intent of that letter, they ought to fire the author. Working together does not come up in there at all.

However, Nancy also writes that discussions are ongoing about how to work together. So that's good news. However, based on that letter, it's clear that some of the Englert Board just want the Coralville space to never happen. We need to support those on both sides who are trying to work together.

I also should mention that Nancy is happy to talk to anyone who has concerns about this issue. Go here for her contact information.

The letter from the Englert to the Board of Supervisors:

April 9, 2008

To the Johnson County Board of Supervisors:

The purpose of this letter is to make you aware of our concerns with the proposed development of a new theater and community performance space in Coralville's "Plaza on 5th project.

It is undeniable that a vibrant cultural environment is essential to creating a great community in which to live, work and play. At first glance the proposed theater may seem to make a positive contribution to that environment. However, we question whether the theater will actually produce that desired effect. We believe it will instead seriously jeopardize the future of another community performance space -- The Englert Theatre -- and thereby dilute the cultural environment of the Iowa City/Coralville area as a whole.

After the Englert closed in 1999, hundreds of volunteers contributed countless hours and raised over $5.2 million to reopen Iowa City's last historic theater as a community performance space. It was a grassroots effort by ordinary people who had extraordinary vision, passion and commitment. Since reopening in 2004, more than 3,000 artists of all ages have been on our stage, performing in front of more than 30,000 people.

Our mission charges us to "highlight the talents of local artists, as well as host regional, national and international touring performances." With the stage filled more than 160 nights a year in front of sizable and appreciative audiences, the community tells us we are fulfilling our mission and serving them well. However, the proposed theater in Coralville will adversely affect our ability to do that:

1. Approximately $100,000 of our yearly revenue is generated by renting the Englert to various community groups. An additional $20,000 to $30,000 of revenue comes from collaborations with community theater groups and non-profit organizations. We anticipate that in the short term the new Coralville theater will take half or more of that revenue away from the Englert. Some organizations will use the new theater because the city requires them to choose it over the Englert (as with City Circle Acting Company) or it may be selected simply because of its novelty as a new building. Others may use it because a facility subsidized by the city may be able to offer a lower cost than our independent non-profit organization, which currently receives no city funding.

2. Although initial conversations about the Coralville theater suggest they will not seek out regional/national/international touring acts, we are inclined to think this may change over time. We believe there will be a great deal of pressure for the city to use the new facility as much as possible, and there is nothing to prevent them from working with third-party promoters to book exactly the kinds of shows that the Englert has been booking.
These two reasons threaten the financial viability of the Englert by diverting many tens of thousands of dollars away -- money that will then have to be raised through contributions in order for the theater to survive. With a not-yet-achieved fundraising goal already in excess of a quarter million dollars, how much more can the Englert ask the community to give?

Perhaps the biggest question is this: can our small geographic area support two theaters of similar size and mission within a couple miles of each other? The new theater will have the effect -- intended or not -- of seriously jeopardizing the Englert's ability to remain open by directly competing for performers, donors and audience members. Financial challenges that are already difficult will be made even more so by spreading the area's supply of performers and demand by audiences too thin. Even after the renovation and the success the Englert has experience since reopening, the people of Iowa City could still lose their last historic theater.
We urge you to consider our view that financially, logistically and practically, it does not make sense for the City of Coralville to create a new theater and community performance space at the expense of an existing nonprofit theater and community performance space right down the street. We believe Iowa City and Coralville should cooperate -- not compete with each other -- as the southern end of our "cultural corridor" develops. We are simply too small to do otherwise.

Warm regards,

The Board of Directors and Staff of The Englert Theatre.

5 comments:

Dieter said...

Yeah, I really don't get anything about "both spaces working together to best serve the community" from the published letter. In fact the last paragraph pretty much says Iowa City and Coralville need to work together to keep the Englert in business. It pretty blatantly opposes the existence of the Coralville theater.

So yeah, if the letter's intent to was to encourage working together, the writer should be fired.

And how cool is it that they will send you personal statements because of your blog? That's pretty cool.

Robyn MK said...

no, no, Dieter. it clearly says right at the end that IC and Cvl should cooperate... right after saying, "it does not make sense for the City of Coralville to create a new theater and community performance space..."

Anonymous said...

Yeah, my guess is the Englert board is divided on this and the letter reflects just a portion of that board.

--Matt

Dweeze said...

no, no, Dieter. it clearly says right at the end that IC and Cvl should cooperate... right after saying, "it does not make sense for the City of Coralville to create a new theater and community performance space..."

There's an incredibly important statement after that ellipse that absolutely changes the meaning of the sentence. The full sentence is

"We urge you to consider our view that financially, logistically and practically, it does not make sense for the City of Coralville to create a new theater and community performance space at the expense of an existing nonprofit theater and community performance space right down the street." (Emphasis added)

And they're right. It doesn't make sense for a public entity to use primarily public funds (over $5M of a $7M budget) to create a business to compete with private entities if doing so will harm those private entities without creating any substantial benefit to the general public. And while this would create some benefits to the general public, those benefits would be completely wiped out if the Englert went under.

Anonymous said...

But the Englert is not a useful community performance space to so many groups. That's the problem that this new space will hopefully address. The Englert made its bed with the poor decisions it made. It should sleep in it.

--Matt