Art Museum future murky


When people gathered in the Bijou on April 18, it wasn’t for a matinee movie — it was to discuss the future of the UI Museum of Art. And it’s still cloudy, UI President Sally Mason said.

“I wish I was here to tell you we’re breaking ground on a new museum immediately,” she said. “But unfortunately I can’t tell you that.”

Mason told the crowd all suggestions and ideas about where the museum should be and what it should look like are still on the table.

To handle the task of rebuilding the Art Museum, Mason said, she will form a Museum Visioning Committee. The group — still undecided — will be responsible for figuring out how to acquire funding, finding locations to build the museum, and exploring how the building would look.

“You start with the vision, then you get the funds,” UI Provost Wallace Loh said.

UI officials are planning to propose a $1 million bond initiative at the state Board of Regent’s meeting in Cedar Falls next week. The bond would match money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which the UI has received to cover campuswide flood damage.

“Economically, we are not alone,” Mason said. “We’re not exactly flush with cash — in fact, we’re looking for resources to give up.”

Less than 50 percent of the building that formerly housed the museum was affected by flooding. Buildings have to suffer damage to more than 50 percent to receive FEMA aid.

The structure currently serves as a rehearsal space for the UI School of Music. But the building is not a suitable location for the valuable collection because it’s not protected from floods.

“We have places on campus for some art to live,” Mason said. “The Richey Ballroom and Black Box in the IMU will be home to part of the collection.”

The Richey Ballroom will become a 4,000-square-foot gallery space with a classroom, said Pam White, the interim director of the Art Museum. Officials also said the IMU Black Box Theater is being renovated to house some of the Museum of Art’s 12,000-piece art collection. Only 250 works on paper have returned to campus, she said.

Some had criticism for UI officials’ plans — most of it centering on the museum not being located on the Arts Campus.

But Serena Stier — an adjunct assistant professor who teaches art, law, and ethics — considered a broader view of the museum’s role.

“Let’s not think, ‘This is music. This is art. This is a museum.’ Who would have thought you could put together a truly great collection with art and medicine,” said Stier, referring to the UI Hospital and Clinics’ Project Art program, which offers patients the opportunity to heal through art.

Mason stressed the importance of finding solutions as soon as possible.

“We are faced with a challenging decision,” she said. “At the same time we have a long standing commitment to art.”

Also at the meeting, Doug True, the UI senior vice president for Finance, addressed concern over replacing Art Building East, located next to the art museum.

“One of the things we’ve been talking about is, ‘Let’s keep our minds open about what we can do here,’ ” he said. “Thinking about how we can better integrate these two aspects.”

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