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Committee Shares Vision for UI Museum of Art; Search Under Way for Director
Robert Motherwell, "Elegy to the Spanish Republic", No. 126, 1965-1975. Acrylic on canvas, 77 ¾" x 200 ¼". University of Iowa Museum of Art. Purchased with the aid of funds from The National Endowment for the Arts with matching funds and partial gift of Robert Motherwell.

IOWA CITY, IA.- Replacing the University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA) must be a top priority so the entire permanent art collection can return to the UI, according to a report by the UI Museum of Art Envisioning Committee. The report also recommends that the new museum enhance the UI’s academic and research mission by making its collection and expertise accessible to faculty and students across the disciplines, as well as to Iowans.

President Sally Mason, who requested the report, said she would carefully review the recommendations before determining next steps. The report is available online at

Meanwhile, a national search is under way for a Museum of Art director who will help plan and begin major fundraising for the new facility.

“The envisioning committee put considerable thought, care and effort into shaping a compelling vision for a new museum of art,” Mason said. “It’s clear the committee members are passionate about rebuilding this cultural treasure and making it better than ever. Their guidance will prove incredibly helpful to the new museum director and others involved in this important project as it moves forward.”

The 75,000-square-foot UIMA was damaged in the June 2008 flood, as were several other campus buildings, including the School of Music and Hancher Auditorium. Since then, a majority of the UIMA’s 12,400 objects has been on display at various temporary locations, primarily in the Figge Art Museum in Davenport and also in the UI’s Iowa Memorial Union.

Carroll Reasoner, chair of the envisioning committee and vice chair of the UIMA director search committee, said the roles of university-connected museums of art have evolved over the years.

“Historically, each college within the university had pieces of art that a curator would take out to classes,” said Reasoner, UI interim vice president for legal affairs and general counsel. “But as donors began giving significant collections to universities, they required that museums of art be built to house the works. Out of necessity, the museums became much more externally focused in an effort to attract outside donors.

“Looking to the future, the committee believes we need to refocus our efforts and use our collections to enhance teaching, learning, research and interdisciplinary collaboration,” she said. “That means making sure the museum is centrally located and has ample classroom space.”

When forming the envisioning committee late last summer, Mason asked members to develop a vision for the new UI Museum of Art that took into account best practices at other art museums connected to universities, as well as the aspirations of Iowans for such a facility. Mason also asked the committee to consider a host of practical matters, including exhibition and storage space, insurability, collaborative educational programs and space and location.

“The loss of the museum has created a cultural, educational and social vacuum,” the report says. “There is a great urgency to bring back the university’s premier collection and to house it in a building worthy of it and the community.”

To that end, the committee said the new building must serve multiple purposes: as classroom, research facility, gathering space, event center, and, most importantly, a place to experience art. Specifically, the committee calls for:

* Expanded permanent exhibition space to allow for expansion of the museum’s permanent collection through acquisitions and donor contributions
* Expanded space for temporary exhibitions that could “significantly enhance” the teaching and research mission of the university
* At least two large classrooms available for general university use, two smaller classrooms near the storage areas for demonstrations of hands-on objects for K-12 visitors, and a print study room for safe viewing of the museum’s world-class print collection
* A state-of-the-art auditorium with a seating capacity of 150 for exhibit-related lectures, films, concerts and other events
* A shop and coffee bar to enhance visitors’ experience

The committee said the building’s location is vitally important to the museum’s future success, and it pointed to museums elsewhere that might serve as models for the UI: the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the new museum space at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“Both are located in the middle of their campuses and play a vital part in the daily lives of students,” the report said. “However, the envisioning committee recognizes as well the importance of a site that is easily used by non-student visitors with convenient accessible parking, entrances for disabled persons, and loading zones for buses.”

The committee recommends that the new facility be located where it will best serve the needs of the academic community as well as patrons in Iowa City and across the state of Iowa. Its preference is for the facility to be closer to the main campus in the Old Capitol district.

Recognizing the challenges of securing funding and a location for the new facility, the envisioning committee nonetheless said rebuilding the UI Museum of Art should be given priority on par with other flood-related restoration projects on campus.

The report said hiring a new UIMA director to help shepherd the project is critical to its success. UI Provost Wallace Loh, to whom the UIMA director would report, said hiring a director is an important next step for the “long-term success of one of the nation’s most innovative university arts communities.”

David Johnsen, dean of the UI College of Dentistry, chairs the 18-member search committee. Pamela White has been interim director of the UIMA since May 2008.

“The director should have the skills and experience to seek out and acquire major gifts of art and funds, using innovative means of communicating with targeted donor markets and designing specific activities to encourage them to participate in the future of the museum,” the envisioning committee report says. “The director should have the same rank and authority comparable to the University Librarian in order to most efficiently carry on the mission of the museum to integrate art into the academic fabric of the university. This underscores the essential relationship of art to the academic mission of the university.”

Established in 1969, the UIMA has one of the top university art collections in the country. Approximately 12,400 objects constitute a diverse collection, including paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs, ceramics, textiles, jade and silver. Two of the well-known works in the collection were given to the museum by the UI School of Art and Art History: Max Beckmann’s triptych, “Karneval”, purchased by the Mark Ranney Memorial Fund in 1946, and Jackson Pollock’s “Mural”, painted in 1943 for Peggy Guggenheim and given by her to the UI School of Art and Art History in 1951.

The Elliott Collection contains paintings by Braque, De Chirico, Kandinsky, Léger, Marc, Matisse, Picasso and Vlaminck, among others. The Stanley Collection of African Art, which today numbers almost 2,000 objects, is part of one of the most significant collections in the country. Other notable areas include nearly 5,300 prints spanning the history of Western printmaking, several hundred ceramics (primarily American Studio ceramics), Ancient American Pre-Columbian objects, as well as small but superb groups of ancient Etruscan and Roman art and Native American ledger drawings.

For more information about the UIMA, visit For more information about the search for a UIMA director, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

University of Iowa Museum of Art | Sally Mason | Carroll Reasoner |

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