Let me be more clear: football is ruining our state, our universities and our communities.
Yesterday, Jamie Pollard, the Iowa State University athletic director, announced a $30 million deficit due, in part, to the recent decision to not allow fans at the Iowa State football games this season. For what it's worth, allowing 25,000 fans to flock to Ames to watch a football game during a pandemic did not seem wise to begin with. Fortunately, President Wendy Wintersteen reversed course after public outcry from the community.
But let’s not get off track.
Now that fans are not allowed, the athletic department projects a $30 million deficit that they do “not have the ability to absorb,” Pollard said. To make up this deficit, three potential plans were presented. Among payroll reductions and cutting sports, which will save chump change in the long run — what are they going to cut: men’s golf and women’s tennis — the most detailed option was to close, indefinitely, CY Stephens Auditorium.
Of course Pollard’s ideal option is to cut the arts. Pollard’s suggestion is not only absurd, it is dangerous and demoralizing.
This mantra is not new to Iowa. In 2017, the Iowa Legislature voted to transfer $6.1 million out of the Iowa Cultural Trust — the entirety of the trust — to help close a shortfall in the state budget. Previously, the interest earned from the Iowa Cultural Trust had been used to fund grants to encourage cultural nonprofits' long-term sustainability. Cultural organizations across the state received cuts in operational grants.
In 2019, when management of the Iowa State Center transferred to the athletics department, no one probably imagined this potential outcome. Stephens Auditorium was not only slated to host 200 performances in 2020, but the building itself is a work of art. Named “Building of the Century” in 2004, Stephens Auditorium is an iconic part of the cultural bedrock of the Ames community. The idea that the athletics department would choose to save itself while closing this important institution is shameful.
The continued assault on the arts will do the state of Iowa no good. And this is not just an assault on the visual arts. This is an assault on performance, dance, design, music, comedy, theater, film, media and the humanities. These fields teach creativity, encourage people to question everything, drive innovation, build community, include everyone, empower and heal. Football does not do these things.
The arts are vital to the future of the state of Iowa. The arts are worth fighting for.
When Stephens Auditorium was dedicated in 1969, Stephens’ widow said, “Within the walls of the CY Stephens Auditorium, countless persons will experience a newborn appreciation for the performing arts in the decades to come.”
I sure hope those decades are not over. Perhaps we should cut football and save the arts.
Kristen Greteman is a graduate student studying history.