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University of Iowa News Release

Feb. 25, 2005

Hancher Launches Spot Website For Upcoming Artist Residencies In Iowa Towns

The University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium, in partnership with the Iowa communities of Marshalltown, Perry, Spencer and Iowa City/Coralville, will launch the first stage of its interactive Web site -- www.spotkids.com -- for the Hancher Family Arts Adventure on March 1. The Spot program is designed to help Iowa children and their families experience the performing arts first-hand. 

The Spot project was initiated in November 2003 when the Wallace Foundation awarded Hancher a four-year, $800,000 "Leadership and Excellence in Arts Participation" (LEAP) grant. The grant will enable Hancher to enhance arts participation through the use of innovative technology and direct interaction with performing artists over the next four years. The launch of the Spot Web site will kickoff a series of performing-arts residencies that will begin with ODC/San Francisco at the end of April.

Once the site launches, children will have the opportunity to become Spot Kids by registering at the website. Spot activities and information for parents will also be available on the Web page.

The first 100 kids to sign up from each participating town will win free Spot Kid t-shirts. And all kids who join the program will also receive membership certificates.

On April 1 the Web site will be expanded to include information on the events, workshops and community activities coming to Iowa as a part of the Spot program. The new Web page will also include games, recipes, learning activities and a chance for kids to get their own work published online. In addition, the site will feature a video of two Iowa City Spot Kids leading a backstage tour of Hancher.

The Spot Web page will be a guide to Spot events and performers coming to the participating communities. This spring and summer, the dance company ODC/San Francisco and musician Dan Zanes will hold workshops for kids at Marshalltown, Perry, Spencer and Iowa City/Coralville as a part of the Spot program.

These nationally known performers will engage parents and children in art activities. ODC/San Francisco and Dan Zanes will end their three-day art residencies in each town with a performance for the entire community.

Hancher staff member Ron McClellen is the Spot Web designer. He sees the Spot Web site as an entertaining learning tool for the kids. One activity planned for the April 1 Web page is a matching puzzle that will familiarize kids with ODC dancers before they arrive in Iowa. McClellen also says the Web site offers accessibility by reaching out to kids who may be unable to attend the events in the communities.

"The performing arts is one area where interactive Web technology has been late in coming. We are excited to see where this will lead us in the next four years of this project," he said. "This will definitely be 'the Spot' where it all happens."

Hancher's executive director, Charles Swanson, says that the Spot program fulfills four goals: to provide arts experiences to people across Iowa, reach "Generation-X" families, reinvigorate the Hancher's family programming and improve its Web site by making it more interactive. 

"The goal for the Spot Web site is to make the activities featured more interactive and interesting," Swanson said. "We want to take our Web site to a new level."

The Wallace Foundation grant, which is the largest programming grant in the auditorium's history, builds on Hancher's experience partnering with Pella, Decorah and Burlington in the Iowa Network Project, also made possible by Wallace funding. That $300,000 grant was the largest previous grant received by the auditorium.

The LEAP grant is being combined with resources committed by several other UI programs and offices -- Academic Technologies, University Relations, the Division of Student Services, the Graduate College and the office of the Vice President for Research.

During the course of the project, the University of Iowa Foundation is establishing a $200,000 endowment that will enable Hancher to continue its audience-development efforts with the technology and expertise developed through the project.

The project will sponsor two artist residencies each season. Three weeks prior to each residency, a variety of online activities related to the art form and the particular artist/company will be available on the Spot website.

The Iowa Communications Network (ICN), the state's real-time interactive fiber-optics network, is also a major tool in the Spot project. Hancher has been an ICN site since 1996, and has used the network to stage interactive workshops that connect Hancher touring artists with school classrooms throughout the state.

The public libraries in each community are partners for the Spot project, because they are both ICN sites and sources of high-speed Internet access. The other participating community organizations will be the Iowa Children's Museum in Iowa City/Coralville, the Spencer Community Theatre Playhouse, Arts on Grand and the YMCA in Spencer; the historic preservation organization Hometown Perry; and the Community Y in Marshalltown.

The artists will launch each residency with an interactive ICN event, originating in Hancher before a live audience and beamed to each library.

Each residency period will culminate in Iowa City with a performance as part of Hancher's regular season.

"Hancher has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in commissioning, innovative programming and network-building," says Judith Hurtig, Hancher's artistic director. "This project will expand our leadership role through the use of technology in arts education and audience building. We and our partners expect to learn a great deal during the next four years, and we expect to solidify relationships that will enhance the cultural lives of these communities far beyond the duration of this grant."

Swanson, who grew up in northwest Iowa, adds, "One of the aspects of the project that we find most exciting is that it enables us to expand our role as a resource to the people of Iowa far beyond driving distance to Iowa City. By utilizing contemporary technology -- building on our experience with ICN workshops that have involved thousands of students in distant classrooms -- we can contribute to the cultural life of Iowa communities that in some cases are too remote from campus to have regular access to our live events. When we create partnerships with these communities, we become much more than just a performance hall. We become more like an arts extension service."

The Wallace Foundation, headquartered in New York, supports and shares effective ideas, practices and solutions that help institutions expand learning and enrichment and opportunities for all people. The foundation's current objectives are to strengthen education leadership to improve student achievement, improve after-school learning opportunities, and expand participation in arts and culture.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, ur-acr@uiowa.edu.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu; Writer: Tacy Geesaman

PHOTOS are available at http://www.uiowa.edu/hancher/media.html

OTHER INFORMATION: Hurtig, Swanson and McClellen are reachable through the Hancher administrative office, 319-335-1130.