By: Rinjisha Roy, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2018, SPEA, Bloomington
Indiana University Bloomington is home to diverse schools and programs, and two such centers of academic discipline include the IU Cinema and the IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.
Unlike other units on campus, both places are unique as both professional venues and centers for scholarly research. As part of an interview for the Bicentennial Oral History Project, IU Cinema director Jon Vickers and IU Theatre chair Jonathan Michaelsen give us insights into how these places have contributed to the IU Bloomington campus since their inception.
Primarily, the missions of both places contribute to their distinct identities in the context of the university. IU Cinema, for instance, is both a laboratory for students and faculty to do research in the arts as well as a venue committed to showcasing national and international films.
“The opening of the Indiana University Cinema was a pretty ambitious project. The president of the university wanted to build a cinema that was considered one of the best in the country, and we wanted to open a program of films that would also be considered one of the best in the country,” says Jon Vickers.
Click below to hear more of Jon’s observations about Indiana University’s support for the arts.
Starting in 2010, Jon was responsible for creating the cinema from scratch, including the vision, operating strategies, and administrative plans with support from a small group of staff members initially. Today the cinema has grown to support various programs supported by seven full-time staff members, student assistants, volunteers, and interns.
Like the cinema, IU Theatre adheres to a mission of similar kind: it seeks to bring theatrical performances to the public and collaborates nationally and internationally as an academic department. Its seasonal repertoire includes musicals, plays and dances, and it hosts around 130 performances each year in the two well-known performance spaces, Ruth N. Halls Theatre and Wells-Metz Theatre.
“Since I joined this department back in 2004, the theatre has grown to include more faculty members, add the B.F.A. in Musical Theatre program and support better infrastructure,” observes Jonathan Michaelsen. Outside academic curriculum, the theatre also organizes travel conferences, a showcase in New York and master classes with renowned artists for its students.
Both centers also collaborate with other units at IU which helps raise greater awareness about the arts they support. Through its programming, the cinema has built ties with different sections of IU.
“We have a program called Creative Collaboration which partners on anywhere from 35 to 60 different programs every semester. Each semester there are around 35 to 50 screenings of films proposed by faculty members which are then approved by our program advisory board consisting of faculty from 14 schools on campus,” reveals Jon Vickers.
The cinema showcases a student film series and masterclasses with filmmakers for undergraduates. It also hosts lectures and other events for the upper administration, and presents an IU president’s film series every year where the president showcases three to four films of his choice.
The cinema has ties also with other arts centers on the IU campus. “We have a film series that we have put on since 2011 called Art in a Movie, where we have at least two films each semester that are related to an object on display at the [IU] Eskenazi Museum.
The event starts with a lecture at the museum around that object. It will then migrate here to the cinema for an introduction, and then a film screening of something that is relevant to that object takes place.” A screening of the movie Peter Pan at the cinema will take place in 2017 in tandem with IU Theatre’s production Peter and the Starcatcher to be staged in late October.
As an academic department, IU Theatre collaborates with the other on-campus units in different ways. Previous partnerships with the Media School and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) have provided internships and assistantships for students to help them gain real world experience of working at an arts organization.
A centralized box office system, run by IU Auditorium, provides services to support the ticketing needs for both IU Theatre and IU Cinema.
Another way in which both centers contribute to the university is through outreach, and that has helped build stronger relationships between IU and the rest of the outside community. At the cinema, Jon talks about the programmatic nature of this relationship. “On average, our percentage of audience that is purely community members ranges between 30 and 40%. So, it’s a significant part of our audience.”
On the other hand, IU Theatre’s outreach efforts are visible from the sold-out shows every season, as well as other kinds of support they receive from community members. “We have an organization called the Theatre Circle from the Bloomington community that raises at least $90,000 each year for our students, and the Circle has been with us for the last 40 years.”
Click below to hear more about the relationship between the community and IU theatre:
So how does the university support these institutes in return?
Jon and Jonathan share their perspectives on that too. For Jon, he, distinctly remembers what brought him back to IU in 2010, “There were a few things that struck me as really unique about Indiana University.
First, the goals and the ambition of the administration for what they wanted the IU Cinema to be; they really wanted it to be the best and it’s rare to get an opportunity to build something that would be considered one of the best.
I was struck by the support of the upper administration for the arts and speaking to the administration about that was really inspiring to say the least.
Also, before coming down here we took two or three trips with our family and fell in love with the community. For me, it was a combination of the campus, the support, the ambition of the program and the community surrounding it.”
Jonathan, on the other hand, was struck by the collaborative spirit of the entire department. “I like the fact that now we are a comprehensive department and we offer B.A., B.F.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. degrees. It’s a mix of scholars and artists that we have here,” he observes. He also remarks about the commitment of the administration to the arts at IU. “When I came here, the theatre building was in disrepair.
President McRobbie wanted a cinema, but he also made the commitment then to renovate this building and we had the new building. It was at the depth of the recession, and it was not easy to financially support a construction but he did it, and that was huge.”
Not surprisingly, both centers have had their fair share of challenges as well. Factors include departmental bureaucracy, wavering financial support, growing pressure to generate student hours, and reduced young audience attendance. However, both Jon and Jonathan remain optimistic especially due to two reasons: support from the university and efforts of students.
“The university offers us financial support and infrastructure which in turn allows us to cater to undergraduates. It also brings in audience if your programming is for the students, faculty and staff. In turn, I think it’s the duty of the arts center to bring the world to this campus. One of the best things that film, as an art, can do is build empathy for other people and cultures, and that is the reason I have been championing for international films for the last 27 years,” comments Jon.
Click below to hear more on why Jon supports showcasing international films:
In keeping with former IU president Herman B Wells’ mission to bring the world to IU via the arts, both IU Cinema and IU Theatre provide a glimpse into how they cater to that mission.
We thank them for all their efforts!