FilmScene unveils new “Strengthen Grow Evolve,” project

Last Sunday, FilmScene and the Englert Theater revealed that they were partnering for the betterment of both companies.


Sam Westergaard

The Englert marquee on the day of the event.

For the past year, the area across the street from the downtown rec center has been consumed by a grand construction project, the details of which have mainly existed as whispers about a new FilmScene theater opening, a bowling alley. Last Saturday, the twentieth of April, a new partnership between FilmScene and the Englert, marketed as “Strengthen Grow Evolve,” was unveiled. The event took place at the Englert Theater.

A little after 2:00 p.m., the lights dimmed slightly in the theater. The talk throughout the room lowered to a hum of whispers from a slightly confused crowd as the stage remained empty. Seemingly out of nowhere, a brass trumpet sounded off. Slowly people began to turn around as the lone player was accompanied by a full band standing silhouetted against the light coming in from the open door at the back of the theater. They made their way through the theater to the front of the stage, playing New Orleans style big band music and signaling the start of the event. The band was later revealed to be the Grand Avenue Ruckus.

Sam Westergaard
New Orleans style brass band Grand Avenue Ruckus played at the event.

After the band exited the stage to thunderous applause, a video began playing on the stage explaining the purpose of the “Strengthen Grow Evolve” project. The video emphasized the importance the arts plays in Iowa City’s environment and stated the slogan for the project plain and simple: “Building the greatest small city for the arts.”

Once the video was finished, Andre Perry and Joe Tiefenthaler (executive directors for the Englert and FilmScene respectively) took the stage and explained the partnership in greater detail. “The culture of this town is the identity of this town,” Perry said while talking about the history of the Englert Theater. The Englert has been around for over a hundred years and is an essential part of Iowa City’s arts scene. One of the project’s main goals is to get the old building restored so that it’s more modern and comfortable for audiences and performers.

Tiefenthaler again brought up the importance the arts have in bringing the community together. “We’re able to take our arts and amplify the careers of everyone else in town,” he explained, mentioning how arts patrons may help another business in town when they’re out seeing movies or theater. For example, he brought up how you might go to FilmScene for a movie and be persuaded to buy a pair of shoes from Velvet Coat next door since they’re so close.

On FilmScene’s side of things, the project’s goal is to help raise funds for their three new theaters inside the Chauncey building, which is currently under construction. In addition to that, funds will go to the upcoming revival of ReFocus, Iowa City’s very own film festival.

The fundraising goal is 6.5 million dollars. “If we can raise 1 million for a seat, Kinnick, we can definitely raise 6.5 million for the arts,” Perry said, producing even more applause and laughter from the full house. The money in question will be split 50-50 between the Englert and FilmScene.

After a quick question and answer session (culled from prewritten frequently asked questions), Perry and Tiefenthaler left the stage. Poet Akwi Nji shared a poem, with the repeated line “It all begins with movement.” After that, Andrew Sherburne of FilmScene and co-chair of Strengthen Grow Evolve took the stage and explained the five-step plan for making this campaign successful.

Before he left the stage, Sherburne added that, in addition to all of these things, they would also need some magic. That’s when magician Nate Staniforth took the stage for a quick magic trick involving two members of the audience. Both signed cards from a playing deck he supplied. The two held the signed cards in their clasped hands and unclasped them to reveal that the cards were switched. Once Staniforth was done with his magic, the Grand Avenue Ruckus led the audience to the construction area for the Chauncey. Events were set up at the construction site, including frozen yogurt, more live music for the band and a chance to tour the construction site. Attendees were encouraged to leave their mark by signing the bare bones layout of one of the theaters.

Near the end of his speech, Perry returned to the motto of the campaign, “building the greatest small city for the arts.” “If we can get that, then we’re definitely the best college town in the country.”