Behind Mission Creek Festival

BY JOSIE JONES | MARCH 29, 2010 7:30 AM

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Andre Perry and Tanner Illingworth met on MySpace.

Impressed by what he saw on Illingworth’s page, Perry sent him a message showing interest in his musical abilities. When Perry moved to Iowa City in 2005, the two musicians played together in a band.

The pair’s shared passion for music and the arts is what keeps them connected five years later.
Every spring, the cofounders bring a variety of artists to downtown Iowa City to display their creative work through live music, literary readings, and other art-related events. The weeklong Mission Creek Festival will begin at 9 p.m. today with a performance by Pocahaunted at Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington St.

Perry worked at Mission Creek’s sister festival held each summer in San Francisco before moving to the Midwest. After becoming good friends with the founder in California, Perry had the idea of expanding the festival. His move to the artistic community of Iowa City proved to be a great opportunity.

He had previous festival experience and, after meeting Illingworth, thought he knew what would work to create a successful festival in the community. In the fall of 2005, three months into Perry’s move to Iowa City, he decided to host Mission Creek Festival.

The nonprofit organization isn’t cheap to support. In the five years of the festival’s existence, the budget has increased from $3,000 to $50,000. The cofounders raise money prior to the festival through various donors, including local businesses and the city.

“We have a projection of what we want to do,” said Perry, 32. “But everything gets more expensive, so we end up expanding it.”

The expansion in the budget is partly due to the cost of bands. Illingworth said that the market for live music hasn’t crashed over the years. But that’s something he’s OK with.

“If we have to put money somewhere in the festival, I’d rather put it on the talent,” Illingworth said.

Because the forecast of expenses isn’t always clear, the event can take a long time to plan. In what the cofounders call the “pre-development phase,” they discuss what changes they would like to implement for the next year.

In the next phase, which occurs in mid-fall, Illingworth and Perry set up the schedule, depending on factors such as who they can afford and who is going to be available.

“The booking process has become year-by-year a more organic experience,” Illingworth said. “Whatever is meant to happen just kind of happens.”

One of the reasons the Mission Creek Festival has been so successful in previous years is because of the geography in Iowa City, Perry said, noting that five blocks is the longest distance between venues.

Producer Craig Eley thinks the festival is successful because it caters to a wider audience than traditional art programming and because it is bigger in terms of the quality of talent.

Despite numerous changes in the artistic scene — such as clubs opening and closing and local bands breaking up — the festival still manages to affect the Iowa City region.

“A lot of changes have happened in the art community over the last five years,” Perry said. “I think we’ve at lease been part of it — we’ve at least been a force that exists.”

While the festival proves to be a complicated event to host, the cofounders say it is a rewarding project. Illingworth related the end of the festival to “the same feeling parents get when their kid goes to college.”

Perry agreed.

“I’d rather have it than not,” he said.

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