helps Iowans bring the arts to town
A huge crowd had gathered, dotted with assembly workers in coveralls
and gloves, security guards in uniform, and maintenance staff wearing
loose smocks. People stood on every level of the manufacturing operation
and lined the metal staircases. Many members of the audience had
never before seen a live productionworking third shift, they
simply didnt have time to drive to a larger city to see an
8 p.m. concert or play.
But on this night in November, six world-renowned musicians had
set up right on the assembly floor of the Pella Corp. in Pella,
Iowa, where the companys trademark windows and doors are made.
The space had been cleared of tables and tools. There were refreshments
available at stands along the perimeter. The Jazz at Lincoln Center
Sextet was performing a live, late-night show.
Before 1999, national arts companies rarely visited Pella, a town
of about 10,000. Then Hancher Auditorium developed the Iowa Network
Project and, as a result, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Sextet, the
Taylor 2 dance company, and the Ahn Trioa violin-cello-piano
ensemble made up of three Korean sistershave appeared in Pella
and two other Iowa communities. Over the three years of the program,
the artists visited each town twice and conducted weeklong residencies
that included workshops, traditional concerts, and performances
at a myriad community events and functions.
"Iowa Network gave us the means and opportunity to bring really
fine artists to our area," says Sandie Nelson, general manager
at the Pella Opera House. "And we had this tremendous team
at Hancher, guiding us every step of the way. I cant emphasize
how important that piece was. The people at Hancher are nationally
respected for what they do, so for me, it was like going to school
with the best."
That is precisely what the Iowa Network Project was designed to
do: forge ties with smaller communities around the state; bring
quality artists into those areas for performances, residencies,
and workshops; and collaborate with local presenters who may have
little experience staging and promoting large acts.
"Our goal is to teach presenters how to develop adult audiences
and help Iowans make the arts a part of their everyday lives,"
says Judith Hurtig, assistant director of Hancher Auditorium. "That
is the primary mission of the Iowa Network Project."
The project began with a Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Fund
grant earmarked for audience-building and education. Hancher proposed
a collaborative, statewide effortestablishing partnerships
with presenters at the Pella Opera House, the Burlington Civic Music
Association, and the Center for Faith and Life at Luther College
"We targeted people aged 25 to 45because theyre
so busy with their children and careers, they tend to be very difficult
to reach," says Chuck Swanson, associate director at Hancher.
"These communities probably wouldnt have been able to
afford artists of this caliber without the program. We started with
the basis of the program, which is audience development, taking
artists into factories, places of business, civic organizations.
We brought them right into the areas where our target audience was
What began as an experiment quickly became a success, bringing
together audience, presenters, artists, business partners, and community
The performance at Pella Corporation was a case in point. Third-shift
workers responded so positively to the jazz concert, when the Ahn
Trio came in late March, they, too, were invited to play on the
"One of the best things to come out of this was seeing the
investment the whole community was willing to make," Nelson
says. "Pella Corporation made time and space; they even catered
in food. It was an incredibly festive atmosphere. And I know that
it was a very memorable experience for the employees. For some of
them, our program was their first experience with the arts. But
you just hope its not their last, and that it changed them
in some meaningful way."