FilmScene and The Englert join the #DoNotAbandonUs campaign

#DoNotAbandonUs is a hashtag many arts venues and employees around the U.S., including Iowa City’s Englert Theater and FilmScene, have picked up in order to push Congress for more COVID-19 relief funding for the arts.


Emily Wangen

Moviegoers wait for a screening of La La Land to begin on the rooftop of Filmscene on Sunday, July 7, 2019.

Megan Conroy, Arts Reporter

The Englert stage and FilmScene theaters have been quiet since April when the venues closed their doors earlier this year. Both theaters joined the #DoNotAbandonUs campaign along with arts venues, employees, and supporters nationwide. The campaign echoes the importance of arts institutions, and how they need funding to survive the pandemic. 

The #DoNotAbandonUs campaign website demands a comprehensive pandemic relief bill for impacted small businesses and individuals passed quickly and offers a letter template for supporters to write to their Congress members. 

In a typical year, the creative sector employs over 42,000 Iowans directly, according to Chris Kramer, director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. The arts also have more than a  $4 billon impact on the Iowa economy, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

“The arts have a tremendous role in driving our economy,” said Andrew Sherburne, interim executive director and co-founder of FilmScene. ”The Iowa Economic Development Authority has identified the arts as the second hardest-hit business sector out of the 12 they analyzed.” 

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FilmScene’s largest expenses include rent, utilities, and staffing, Sherburne said. The venue received the first round of the Paycheck Protection Plan in April, which funded these expenses for two months. 

“All of our hourly staff haven’t been at work since we stopped having work available for them back in April,” he said. “Our salaried staff has all been reduced and partially furloughed at this time.”

FilmScene also received an Economic Injury Disaster Loan to support the organization’s cash flow. However, Sherburne said the theater will have to pay it back in the long term.   

Since FilmScene functions a social gathering space, the co-founder described the cinema as the first to close and the last to open. With programming reduced, the theater is struggling. 

“Arts institutions are tied to the fabric of our vibrant community,” Sherburne said. “That is hard to rebuild, so we want to keep them alive.”

FilmScene’s neighbor, The Englert Theater, also received funds from the paycheck protection program. Alongside this, they received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, partially funded by the Mellon Foundation. 

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Development Director Katie Roche handles the individual giving, membership, and other fundraising efforts opportunities. 

“So much annual giving for organizations that produce events that we do is the result of people engaging directly in the organization with in-person events,” Roche said. “With no in-person events, a lot of opportunities to inspire people to support the organization goes away.”

Since there are no events to put on, the wage for employees of the theater has fluctuated throughout the pandemic. Andre Perry, Englert executive director, said he imagines they will continue to slim down the staff going into the 2021 season as well. 

“We will be launching in 2021 an all-digital season that will for sure have a strong production to it,” Perry said. “I think it’s really going to be amazing content and material and that will be our way of supporting artists in the community while we’re in this shutdown phase.”

Without government support, Perry said he worries about losing very important art institutions in Iowa, as well as across the country. 

“One of the reasons we’re big proponents of #DoNotAbandonUs, Save Our Stages, and all these pleas going to the Congress is because it can really help organizations like ours,” he said. “If all these entities stay alive and can just get to the other side so that when it’s time to come back, all of them can reactivate.”