Andre Perry is the co-founder and director of Iowa City’s Mission Creek Festival and the executive director of the historic Englert Theatre. On May 22, Mission Creek announced the full cancellation of its 2020 program due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The 15th annual edition had originally been scheduled for early April and was then tentatively re-scheduled for mid-September.
Mission Creek is an all-indoor, downtown festival held at venues ranging from the theater setting of the Englert, to long-running rock clubs like The Mill and Gabe’s, to intimate all-ages venues and local shops. Mission Creek was the model for the Maximum Ames Music Festival, which has also been canceled for 2020 along with Ames Pridefest, which had been scheduled in collaboration on the same September weekend.
“My sense is that we will need the perfect alignment of government permissions, medical confidence, artist readiness, and community trust and enthusiasm to get the live arts industries back in motion.”
Perry is one of the most respected booking agents and programmers in the state and Mission Creek has been an essential taste-maker with outstanding music, literature, and comedy programming perfectly calibrated to each of its participating venues. He is also a musician and writer, known for bands The Lonelyhearts and Datagun, as well as for his essays in numerous publications. The annual fall festival Witching Hour, another of his endeavors, is still planned to happen with a virtual edition.
The Informer spoke with Perry over email about the cancellation, the next steps for Mission Creek and the Englert, and the message he wants to send to Iowa artists.
You’re doing the right thing, thank you for prioritizing safety. What ended up leading you and your team to make this decision?
It became clear to us in early May that it would be impossible to predict safety levels in our community in September for this kind of event. Festivals involve so many logistics and it is really difficult to plan for an event of this size with so much uncertainty.
What are you hearing from agents? Is there a push to get fall or winter dates on the books, or are they already looking at 2021?
There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty across the board from artists to agents to managers to promoters and arts organizations. Those with more optimism envision events in late 2020 while those with more conservative outlooks are looking toward mid-2021 and beyond.
My sense is that we will need the perfect alignment of government permissions, medical confidence, artist readiness, and community trust and enthusiasm to get the live arts industries back in motion. That’s a lot of alignment. Some arts spaces, like museums and cinemas, might be able to successfully open a bit sooner.
What’s your take on virtual events?
When done well — and those metrics vary depending on the event — I think they can be amazing. Furthermore, I support any programming outlets that allow arts organizations to deliver on their missions and values.
Mission Creek has supported and hired so many Iowa musicians and writers over the years. Do you have a message for local artists during this difficult time?
My personal message is, “Please keep making art!” There are so many great musicians, writers, visual artists, and other creators around this state. I hope our arts community sustains, even grows, during this disrupted period.
At The Englert Theatre and Mission Creek we are currently assessing how we can better invest our limited resources into the art that is being made here in Iowa. We did some test driving with our Mission Creek Underground series. There will be more opportunities for us to support Iowa-based artists this summer and fall. We are launching our podcast series, Best Show Ever, at the top of June and will begin work on our experimental concert film, Ghost Creek, later this summer. Then there will be our virtual festival, Witching Hour, in the fall. All of those programs will depend greatly on Iowa-based artists and arts workers.
Basically, during this crisis, we are going to do our best to fulfill our mission, support our artists, and keep our staff. While that might require getting leaner it also means staying relentlessly active. That approach will help guide us into the next chapter.