Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hancher - Part IV

September 17, 2009, 6:35 a.m.

Some Suggestions for Thinking About the Location of
the University of Iowa's New Performance Venue
Part IV

(brought to you by*)
[Blog Entries in Hancher Series:

Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher - Part I," September 14, 2009 (Downtown).

Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher - Part II,"
September 15, 2009 (Natural Settings).

Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher - Part III," September 16, 2009 (The Costs).

Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher - Part IV," September 17, 2009 (UI's Mission and Mobility).]
This five-part series of blog entries is my effort to think through for myself -- with such similar assistance as it may be for anyone who cares to read it -- some of the issues surrounding the replacement and relocation of the University of Iowa's elegant entertainment venue, the "Hancher Auditorium" (with the adjacent music facilities that will finally receive mention this morning). (For those not familiar with Iowa City and its Iowa River, the project is before us as a result of an unprecedented flood in 2008 that essentially rendered the auditorium unusable.)

Monday's essay explored the possible location in downtown Iowa City. Tuesday's addressed the role of natural settings for entertainment venues. Yesterday's looked at a number of categories of direct and indirect costs.

Today I want to try to think through the relationship of these issues to the University of Iowa's academic mission.

(The local paper, the Iowa City Press-Citizen, began the week, and inspired my effort, with its own three-day, three-part series, "The Hancher Decision." Jim Lewers, "Hancher Series Begins Today," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009. The data and various local opinions reflected in its series are linked throughout these blog entries and listed chronologically at the bottom of each day's blog entry.)

Hancher and the University of Iowa's Academic Mission

I am somewhat handicapped in writing about the relationship of Hancher to the University's academic mission because of a lack of facts. "So," I hear you say, "what else is new? I've never noticed that handicap to hold you back before." And I guess you'd be right. [Add item: Be sure to see the 9/17/2009 09:34:00 AM Comment from "Anonymous" at the end of this blog entry from someone who does have, and provides, the relevant facts I lacked when writing this.]

What I mean by that specifically in this case is that my perception of Hancher, and indeed what I've written about it so far in this series, presumes that it is somewhere between "mostly" and "exclusively" a big show entertainment venue. I am simply unaware of the extent to which classes are taught there, or students otherwise accumulate academic credits, that simply could not be done without it. At roughly $300 million it does seem to be quite a lot to spend on an academic program. There are certainly others at the University who would like their academic programs to have a $300 million telescope, or a $300 million research lab, who don't get them.

At a minimum, a substantial part of the rationale for this expenditure (even if not all of the rationale) is to provide Iowans, the public, and anyone else who cares to attend (including the University community) a place to be entertained with stage performances.

It is, in this sense, something of a smaller scale version of the entertainment we offer the public (including the University community) on a half-dozen Saturdays in the fall in the form of a 3-1/2-hour football game (consisting, according to most counts, of somewhere between 9 and 15 minutes of actual action). They are very popular with the public -- as reflected in the fact that the Hawkeyes' "auditorium" holds on those days at least 30 times the number who can fit in Hancher's seats.

Moreover, for those who exult the intellectual "culture" of Hancher over the brutality in the Kinnick Stadium, however professional and corporate the football program may have become with its $4 million coaches and $100 million touch-ups for the stadium, it at least involves performers who are actually enrolled as students in the University. Hancher, by contrast, primarily (if not exclusively) involves performers who come from out of town and promptly leave once their performance is over and they've been paid.

Robert Hutchins became dean of the Yale Law School at the age of 28, and president of the University of Chicago when 29 or 30. I certainly heard of him from my father when I was a child, but did not have the opportunity to meet and talk with him until I was a student at Texas. We later talked about media ownership issues after he resigned from Chicago and invited me to the Ford Foundation-funded Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara which he headed.

But the relevance of Hutchins in the context of this morning's blog entry is that, as Chicago's president in 1939, he simply abolished the university's football program -- characterizing it as a distraction from the school's more appropriate academic mission for faculty, students and public alike.

Was he wrong?

I have advocated elsewhere that, rather than abolishing the football program, if one could get an agreement from an entire football conference it might make sense to spin it off from a university. We could acknowledge that it is in effect a farm club for the NFL, like the AAA and AA baseball teams are for major league baseball. We certainly don't limit our recruiting of football players to the high schools in Iowa's 99 counties. In the case of Iowa, for example, it could lease from the University the name "Hawkeyes" and use of the stadium, and perhaps athletes who wanted to could enroll as students. But they would not be required to be enrolled. They would be paid a fair wage -- not $4 million a year, perhaps, like their coach, but enough to acknowledge that it is they, after all, not the coach, who those fans are paying to see, they who provide the entertainment, they who are suffering the knee injuries they'll live with for life. As a separate corporation, with a board of directors, no one could complain about the coach's salary as the highest of any State of Iowa employee. As a side benefit it would eliminate the numerous conflicts of interest the program currently creates for coaches, players, faculty, administrators and other students in our effort to maintain the fiction that our football heroes are really treated just like any other university students engaged in an extra-curricular activity.

The point is, if so many members of the academy share at least a little of Bob Hutchins' opposition to the distraction of college football, and it at least involves performers who are ostensibly actual students, what is the academy's justification for a university providing entertainment for the public that involves performers who don't even pretend to be students, and have no other connection with the university?

I can at least try to answer that question. The arts are a part of "education," from K-12 through university. (But then, thought the Greeks, so is athletic performance.) Most schools bring in outside lecturers, as does the UI (a source of my income during years I spoke at 100s of schools). The provision of large entertainment venues may be at the outer edge of a university's mission. But if we can bring professional musicians, actors, dancers, and other performers to a grand stage, and the building and program can pay for itself with ticket sales to the public, and the faculty and students can have access to professionals who would otherwise be unaffordable, why not? Not the best analysis, perhaps, and undoubtedly unsatisfactory for many Libertarians and tax cutters, but it's the best I can come up with this morning.

Voxman and Clapp

Which brings us to the "V" and "C" of what is sometimes called "H-V-C" -- Hancher, Voxman, Clapp. The Voxman Music Building, and Clapp Recital Hall (both named for former UI professors) are part of the arts complex that includes Hancher. (Does it help performers seeking applause to be able to make their music in an auditorium named "Clapp"?) How imperative is it that they continue to be attached to the "new Hancher" -- whether downtown or elsewhere on the present site?

How important is this idea of an "arts campus" anyway? (In addition to "H-V-C" the riverbank is also home to the Art School, the Art Museum, and the Mabie Theater (containing a number of performance areas). Is it the creation of an obsessive-compulsive mind -- someone who would put all their canned fruits and vegetables in alphabetical order in the pantry? Is it merely symbolic: "Look, we support the arts at this university"? Or does it perform some function? Do students working on metal sculpture also take music or acting lessons? I don't know. But all things being equal, I guess if you can do it for no additional cost, once again why not?

But if Hancher is to be squeezed into downtown Iowa City there is additional cost (for the additional land) -- and perhaps less reason -- to have Clapp and Voxman tag along, since the "arts campus" would, by then, have been dismantled as a concept anyway.

Transportation in a Toy Town

The population of Iowa City is smaller than that of some apartment developments in some of the world's larger urban areas. Think about it. Within a fairly small footprint we have multiple entire governments: Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, University Heights, Johnson County, and transportation systems (Iowa City buses, Coralville buses, Cambus, Bionic Bus, Johnson County Seats, University employee van routes, the Eastern Airport Shuttle, and numerous taxi companies).

It's a 5-minute walk from my home to my office, and another 6-minute walk from there to downtown -- at which point I'm within a one block walk to my post office box or lawyer or banker or public library or numerous entertainment venues and restaurants.

(I'm always befuddled by those who tell me they take the bus in the winter rather than walk "because it's so cold." Cold is precisely the time one should walk -- to keep warm -- especially when compared with standing for 20 minutes or more, motionless, at a bus stop to travel a distance that could be walked in 10 minutes.)

As a result of jogging too many miles over the years my knees are such that, while I can walk to town, and do, it's easier on the knees (and generally all round lazier) to bike. (My only vehicle is a 1978 VW camper van which is driven about 200 miles a year.) It would seldom occur to me to expend the extra time and money it would take to travel around Iowa City by automobile for trips when a bike is appropriate, faster and more fun.

The point of all this (as I suspect you're wondering by now) has to do with the discussion in the Press-Citizen's stories regarding the enormous imposition on students and others to have to walk from town to Hancher, or between classes at Voxman and the Pentacrest. Others have commented about the extra few feet of distance the public would have to walk from a parking lot adjacent Hancher (at a new location on the same property). To all of them I say, "Balderdash."

If we old geezers can walk around town with our bad knees and other ailments it doesn't seem to me unreasonable to ask 20-year-olds to do the same. If if one is sufficiently disabled to require a wheelchair they are probably used to getting around with one.

And, as I've indicated above, if anyone does want public transportation or a cab ride instead of a walk, there's plenty available.

Come on, folks. Think about the trip from the Village to Lincoln Center in New York, or from Brentwood to Pasadena in LA. We're living in a little toy town by contrast. That's much of Iowa City's charm, after all, this combination of intellectual and cultural stimulation on the one hand, and such easy accessibility on the other.

Tomorrow we'll wrap up some of the remaining issues and maybe even come to some conclusions.

The Press-Citizen's Series

[See also the University of Iowa Facilities Management Web page regarding its July 9, 2009, presentation to the community about these issues. It includes links to a streaming video of the evening, the Power Point slides used on that occasion, and the Flood Mitigation Task Force Recommendations. "Facilities Managment/Projects." My own evaluation of that evening is found in Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher Relocation Process and Site; University Offers Useful Model for Major Decisions," July 10, 2009.]

Jim Lewers, "Hancher Series Begins Today," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Editorial, "Choose Between Two Good Options for Hancher," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Chuck Swanson, "Either Site Will Work for Hancher," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Wallace Chappell, "Time to Divorce Hancher and the River," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Bob Hibbs, "Performance Spaces on the UI Campus," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Brian Morelli and Josh O'Leary, "What To Do About Hancher Auditorium," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Brian Morelli and Josh O'Leary, "Is Moving Hancher Downtown a Game Changer?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Brian Morelli, "Regents to Have Final Say in Hancher's Location," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

"UI Flood Recovery Mostly Covered By FEMA Money," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Brian Morelli, "UI, Hancher May Get More FEMA Money," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Brian Morelli, "Officials Didn't See Flooding to Be Potential Problem," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Deanna Howard, "A man for the arts; Virgil Hancher envisioned an arts campus on the river," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Rob Daniel, "New Stores Help Fill Coralridge Mall," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

September 13

Josh O'Leary and Brian Morelli, "UI Weighs Options for Hancher Flooded Site," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 13, 2009.

Josh O'Leary, "Yarrow Ready for Hancher Rebuilding," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 13, 2009.

Josh O'Leary, "Proximity Key to Hancher's Neighbors," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 13, 2009.

"Learn More About Coralville Arts Center," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 13, 2009 ("This 500-seat community venue . . . will be available for use beginning in the spring of 2011 . . . by community groups for recitals, concerts, lectures, theater and other performances").

September 14

Bruce Wheaton, "The 'H,' 'V' and 'C' in 'HVC,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 14, 2009.

Marc Moen, "Benefits of Urban Auditoriums," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 14, 2009 (with link to Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, "The Benefits and Qualities of Cultural Districts") .

Brian Morelli and Deanna Howard, "As Venue's Revenue Losses Mount, Public Split; One Site's Weaknesses Are the Other's Strengths, Official Says," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 14, 2009.

Brian Morelli, "Who Will Make Site Selection?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 14, 2009.

"Culver Hopeful UI Will Get more Federal Funds; FEMA Head to Tour Campus' Flood Sites in Next Two Months," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 14, 2009.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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Anonymous said...

Just a couple of comments--

Your persistent use of the term "entertainment" venue can be argued with--many would argue that a lot of the arts performances there go beyond "entertainment" into, connotatively, more significant "arts" events--cultural experiences. (This doesn't address the "worth" or "value" argument--just trying to clarify some terms.) Lectures sometimes happen there, too.

Hancher is often used for UI arts performances--UI Symphony Orchestra, UI bands, UI Opera Theatre, etc., as well as some graduations. The School of Music, at least, needs a larger performance venue than just Clapp. Again, this does not address the "worth" question, but I think your analysis of Hancher's use is too limited.

Anonymous said...

While not arguing with your general premise that parking should not be the driving force behind siting Hancher, I would point out that your dismissal of the handicapped is overly simplistic. Not every handicapped person uses motorized assistance. I walk with a cane, and do not attend events where I must walk more than 1/2 block or so; it's simply not an option due to debilitating pain.