Hancher continues projects as new building plans are finalized


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The historic flood of 2008 may have closed the University of Iowa’s signature performing-arts center, but several university officials have maintained that the school’s spirit and dedication to the arts remains strong. After opening in 1972, Hancher Auditorium hosted hundreds of performing artists. But after a nearly 40-year run, floodwaters ruined the building in 2008. Today, demolition work that began Sept. 20 continues.

Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson said that it did not take the arts organization long to regroup following 2008 floods, adding that the theme of ‘We Cannot Be Contained’ was adopted shortly after the water receded. “We had to think outside the box because we’d been kicked outside the box,” Swanson said at Thursday’s “Hancher — More Than a Building” Studio Talk series.

The series of informal lunchtime includes talks abourt public digital arts and humanities and their role in contemporary culture, education, and scholarship. It is put on by the UI’s Digital Studio for Public Arts & Humanities. The rebuilding process and examples of how [Hancher] is based on more than a physical structure were also discussed. 

“What I’m proud of more than anything is the fact that throughout this time, we have stayed very true to our mission,” Swanson said. Although displaced for nearly six years, events and sponsored projects have been held in a number of different local venues, including the Englert, IMU Main Lounge, the Mill, West High Auditorium, and the Paramount Theater in Cedar Rapids.

Swanson described Hancher’s mission as bringing in world-class artists and engaging them in learning, discovery, and public engagement. A more recent and personal project the Hancher staff hosted this past year was “Living With Floods,” which centered on the five-year anniversary of the flood.

The project held community forums throughout the spring of 2013 and culminated in seven free outdoor concerts with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in June. Swanson also spoke about a project that is being launched this year about cyber-bullying, which will be in conjunction with the UI College of Public Health, with which Hancher officials have worked with before, and the Working Group Theater. The research from the public-health school will be put into lesson plans with teachers and in November will be presented to seventh- and eighth-graders throughout the community in the form of a play. After the play is shown, a survey will be taken to see how the show affected the students, which will help the college develop more research.

“It’s such a great partnership,” Swanson said. “We’re hoping to take this statewide and nationwide, because there is such a need for it.” This project is receiving positive feedback from UI officials.

“The anti-bullying project is a great example of benefiting people all across Iowa and approaching an important issue on a multidisciplinary basis,” UI spokesman Tom Moore said. Other events that Hancher will host throughout the fall semester can be found on its website.

“I think we can conquer the world,” Swanson said. “I think we can make anything happen in this building.” In a Sept. 24 interview, UI President Sally Mason said when complete, the new 1,800-seat facility will be among the first aspects of Iowa City and campus visitors see when entering from Dubuque Street.

Hancher, she added, is going to attract amazing people both to campus and back to campus. “Hancher’s always been a showcase piece for us in terms of a facility that allows us to highlight the more creative aspects of the work here that gets done on campus but also the creativity of the people who want to come and be a part of our campus, whether it’s the Joffrey Ballet, whether it’s some other kind of musical theatrical performance, it’s going to be an amazing facility,” she said.

And while most of the university student population has yet to experience Hancher in one facility, one freshman who lives within feet of the new construction site said she is anxious to see what the building will be like in 2016. “There is a lot of talk about how it will be bigger and better, and I think it will be a great place for students and faculty to connect over the arts,” Hannah Holzapfel said.

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