In a heart-festooned shirt, with red paper hearts adorning the wall behind him, Hancher Auditorium executive director Chuck Swanson announced his retirement to members of the Hancher Partners program via a Valentine’s-themed video emailed out early Tuesday morning.
“I really want the best for Hancher; I really love this place,” he said, discussing the hardships the University of Iowa multidisciplinary performing arts venue had weathered the past two years due to the pandemic, and those yet to come.
In July of 2020, budget cuts at the UI landed Hancher’s funding on the chopping block. Over the course of three years — culminating in the 2022-23 season, Hancher’s 50th — the university would reduce to zero its $1.5M General Education Fund support of the theater, which accounted for roughly one-third of its annual budget and was dedicated to paying staff salaries.
“I really feel that the best decision is for fresh eyes to take a look at what is needed in order for Hancher to continue being a leading presenter, along with facing this new budget situation. So I want to step aside. I want fresh eyes to be able to open doors, open windows — find new ways for Hancher to reinvent itself. … So I guess that means retirement, for me.”
Swanson was a student at the University of Iowa (’75 BBA, ’76 MBA) when Hancher opened its doors in 1972. He stepped into the role of business manager at the theater in 1985, and has served as its executive director since July of 2002. During that nearly 20-year tenure he has overseen drastic changes and challenges, from the theater building’s destruction in the historic 2008 floods to the fall 2016 triumphant reopening to the incredible flexibility shown in programming and space-making over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His history with Hancher also encompasses a push to make the venue as welcoming to the community as possible, including outreach to K-12 students and driving diverse programming. And he has continually served as a champion for the theater in the community; his is a familiar name and face to all who support the arts in the region.
“This wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be,” Swanson said in his video announcement. “I thought it was really, really going to be a tough thing to share. We have had an incredible ride. The journey has been amazing.”
Swanson expressed his gratitude and love to the Hancher Partners, a collection of individual and corporate donors who support the theater’s offerings, speaking to them as if to family and reminiscing about past Hancher events via the pictures on his wall. But he exhorted them not to spend his remaining time at the helm reminiscing only, but also discussing “how things could’ve been better, and as we go forward, how things could be better.”