Festival celebrating Iowa River set to make a big splash in Iowa City

Hancher Auditorium, IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering, and the City of Iowa City are putting on a three-day event next summer celebrating the Iowa River and IIHR’s 100th anniversary.


Emily Wangen

Hancher Auditorium Executive Director Chuck Swanson speaks to members of the media during a press conference for The Big SplashÑ a three day festival set to be held at Hancher and along the Iowa RiverÑ on Tuesday, June 4, 2019. The Big Splash will take place August 14-16, 2020. (Emily Wangen/The Daily Iowan)

Brooklyn Draisey, Summer Editor

Artists and engineers are coming together to make waves at a festival celebrating the river that is such a large part of the University of Iowa and Iowa City communities.

The Big Splash!, scheduled for August 14-16, 2020,will commemorate the Iowa River, along with the 100th anniversary of IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering. Three days of events will take place along and on the Iowa River, and will be free to the public.

“One of the amazing aspects of this event is the capability of bringing the science and the arts together, not in a forced fashion but in a way that will integrate and complement each other perfectly,” IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering Director Gabriele Villarinisaid at a press conference that unveiled the plans for the events.

The idea for a fair commemorating the river first came about in 2013 when the UI and Hancher created a project called Living with Floods. Swanson said they seriously started working on the project two and a half years ago.

The festival is presented by Hancher Auditorium, IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering, and the City of Iowa City. It will be the culminating event of the 2019 University of Iowa Theme Semester, Flow Together.

“We view this not as a three-day event, we view this as a turning point in our community’s history where people come together … to celebrate the river but also for an event … that will leave the lasting memories you need and feel the excitement so that you keep coming back to the river for a variety of different programs,” Iowa City City Manager Geoff Fruin said at the press conference.

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Hancher Programming Director Paul Brohan said the budget for The Big Splash!is still being worked out. They are receiving funding from donors and partners, but since the festival is so far away, Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson said, the cost is still “fluid.” Projected turnout for the event is also currently unclear.

While The Big Splash! isn’t happening for another year, artists and engineers have already started working to ensure the festival will be a unique experience.

Much of the fair will involve performances on and around the river. Quixotic Cirque Nouveau, a Kansas City-based performance art collective that performed at Hancher’s opening, is creating 14 floats for the big river parade that will stretch from the Dubuque St. bridge to the Hancher footbridge.

Victor Quijada and the RUBBERBANDance Group will perform a migratory dance that will start on the river, then flood over the banks and end at the entrance to Hancher. Quijada said in the press conference that this dance will make peace with the new auditorium and the river. RUBBERBANDance Group was supposed to perform at Hancher in 2008, but was unable to due to flooding.

The Flying Wallendas, a seven-generation circus family, will perform tightrope feats, including walking over 400 feet across the river.

Records might also be broken at The Big Splash!, with world-champion high diver Dana Kunze and Water Show Productions attempting to break the world record for the highest dive into a portable tank. The plan is to dive 101 feet into a nine-foot tank.

There will also be musical performances and dance parties in the evenings.

Machine Dazzle, a costume designer who has worked with Taylor Mac, will be creating an exhibit people can see all weekend. He is making a series of sculptures that function as one. He will also be incorporating the sounds of underwater instruments.

Students will also be encouraged to engage in the festival through STEM Innovator, a model for engaging schools in innovation and entrepreneurship. Leslie Flynn, a UI professor and a member of STEM Innovator, said the in the conference a minimum of 46,000 students will engage in The Big Splash!

Artist Tomáš Kubínek is the artistic director and master of ceremonies for The Big Splash!He has worked with Hancher on projects since 2004, and has helped recruit different artists for this event.

In addition to bringing in different shows, Kubínek also wants to have scientists come and explain the science behind the river and the different acts.

“We’re also going to get retired firefighters to demonstrate old fire equipment and new fire equipment, get them talking about the science part as well as how things work,” Kubínek said, “so there’s a beautiful doorway to wonder and curiosity.”

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