Public Space One leaving current space in June

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | MAY 07, 2013 5:00 AM

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Come June, the lights, sounds, and creative spirit at one prominent downtown Iowa City performing-arts venue will go dark after the executive decision was made to let their lease in a historic former hotel expire.

In a Monday morning statement, Public Space One, 129 E. Washington St., announced that all live performances at their current 2,500-square-foot facility will end in early June, the  final exhibition on June 22.

Since relocating from cramped quarters above MidWestOne Financial Group’s downtown headquarters five years ago, the venue has played host to 64 artists and exhibitions, completely rent-free. The 10-year old venture’s original location occupied space above Deadwood, 6 S. Dubuque St.

In February, the nonprofit was told it would have to vacate the University of Iowa-owned Jefferson Building by July 1 because of increased security risk posed by hosting late-night performances in the building’s lower level.

In the statement, however, director John Engelbrecht cited the need for a larger, consolidated space long-term to fulfill the nonprofit’s mission.

That need, he said, may lie in soon-to-be available space at the Wesley Center, 120 N. Dubuque St., after the Free Lunch Program vacates in January.

Potential renovations to that space are being considered; however, cost and scale estimates were not available as of Monday evening. Officials are considering loose fundraising ideas for the new 3,000-square-foot space. Engelbrecht said pop-up performing-art spaces are a potential option before the relocation to the Wesley Center takes place.

Currently, up to 80 percent of the venue’s programming takes place at the Wesley Center.

“If we are going to initiate a capital-raising campaign, we feel it should go towards a long-term solution, not leave us in the small boat this time next year, and ultimately go toward a space where all our programming is possible and welcome,” he said.

Iowa City Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird lauded the performing-arts venue’s decision to remain near downtown and said the Wesley Center plan presents a strong short-term solution.

“It’s still a vibrant use; it’s got that cross synergy,” she said. “We’re very invested in making sure we help it find a permanent, long-term space. For the long term, we’re going to do whatever we can to keep them [near] downtown.”

Engelbrecht said the news should not come as a negative but rather as a step forward.

“… We are immensely grateful to the UI Foundation and the Business Office for supporting our organization for the last five years,” he said in the statement. “Their gift — now, in some ways, measurable at $40,000-plus in rent and utilities — and specifically Dan Black and Steve Elder’s support has bolstered our organization to the point that we will survive (if not thrive) with this change.”

West High senior Zora Hurst said teaching at a Public Space One-run writing camp last summer helped her realize the quirkiness and unique atmosphere synonymous with its Washington Street space.

“It’s a sort of a surreal experience,” she said. “It makes you feel like you’re in a metropolitan area, but you are still in Iowa City. I’ve been to the Wesley Center a couple times, and it doesn’t have that iconic, hole-in-the wall feel or a place to see unknown artists.”

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