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Englert celebrates 10 years of nonprofit status

BY ISAAC HAMLET | OCTOBER 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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This year, the bright red, yellow, and blue marquee at 221 E. Washington St. will flash for more than 300 performances — making it hard to believe the theater once went 60 years without a live show.

The Englert Theater’s current success is because of its nonprofit status, which turns 10 years old this fall. The theater will celebrate this milestone with concerts, dinners, and a reflection on its history.

The Englert was opened as a vaudeville house in September 1912, replacing a local livery stable. After several rocky decades including owners’ deaths and a fire, the Englert became a movie theater before closing in 1999.

“At that time, the building was going to get taken over by a purchaser who wanted to turn it into a bar/nightclub,” said Andre Perry, the theater’s executive director. “That’s when the community and city asked if they could better purpose the space for an arts nonprofit rather than having another bar or nightclub downtown.”

Thanks to a Save the Englert grass-roots campaign, the theater reopened in 2004, garnering its new nonprofit status and once again hosting live shows.

Of course, the Englert will host its own series of commemorative events. Indie rock and R&B artist Caroline Smith will perform at the theater on Oct. 24, and Iowa City musician Pieta Brown and Minneapolis indie-roots band the Pines will visit the theater in December.

Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduates Conor Hanick and Dora Malech will also present a mash-up of literature and classic music on Oct. 25.

“We commissioned a series of poems from [Malech] on gratitude,” said Englert Development Director Katie Roche. “When we sat down to talk, we realized this 10-year mark was coming at us and that gratitude was a great theme for all of this. We wouldn’t exist if people didn’t buy tickets and support the theater.”

Roche said the Englert appeals to more than Iowa City natives and UI alumni.

“I think we’ve become more of a regional attraction when we look at our ticket sales and even our donors,” she said. “We’re starting to reach well outside of Iowa. I think more people are looking at Iowa City and thinking that it’s a fun place to come to for the weekend.”

The Englert has been able to spread its influence beyond the borders of the city and the state, arguably, farther than any other theater in the Iowa City area.

Wallace Chappell, the former executive director of Hancher who recently retired being as head of the Englert, said, “The Englert is completely on its own outside of its donors. It gets a good amount of money from the city and some from the Arts Council, but for the most part, it relies on those willing to donate.”

Perry said the community investment holds the Englert to a certain standard.

“Just having a mission is good and knowing at the end of that day that we’re serving people in the Iowa City area,” he said. “We’re challenging them and making them happy. And [being nonprofit] really increases the diversity in programming, whether it’s stuff we’re putting on or if we’re the house for other people’s productions. It’s really varied and makes the job a lot of fun.”


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