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UI ponders museum fate

BY CLAIRE PERLMAN | JULY 13, 2009 7:15 AM

Last year’s flood damaged 22 UI buildings. For the Arts Campus, officials are still hashing out plans for the few edifices authorized for reconstruction.

But they face more than the question of where new buildings could go. While the public heard two viable locations for the Hancher/Voxman/Clapp complex July 9, the Museum of Art’s future is smudged with budget problems.

For one thing, neither the Art Museum nor Art Building West will receive federal disaster funding because they didn’t sustain damage of 50 percent or more of the property’s value.

Art Building West will be renovated, but some see an opportunity to improve the Art Museum.

“This is a chance not only to replace what we lost but to really look into the future and see how we can be better than ever,” said Pat Hanick, the museum director of development at the UI Foundation.

At present, the university’s art collection is scattered, from around the UI campus to the Figge Art Museum in Davenport.

The artwork will stay in its temporary homes until a new, permanent museum is built in Iowa City — one far from the floodplain. But first, Hanick said, a committee in the works has to decide whether the museum needs a total makeover first.

“People are looking at this as an opportunity to be even bigger and greater and more wonderful as a museum than the museum we lost,” she said.

Officials expect to announce 12 to 15 members of a Visioning Committee, a group — made up of UI and K-12 educators and museum supporters — that will make recommendations to UI officials about the future of the Museum of Art based on information from experts and other university museums.

Meanwhile, at a public forum on July 9, locals debated over two sites for the music complex, both presented by Joe Hibbard from the Sasaki and Associates architecture firm.

A majority of the forum’s attendees, many longtime Hancher supporters, spoke on behalf of the west site next to the Levitt Center; they believe the location would continue to surround Hancher with natural beauty.

“Hancher is not a building just for the university but for all of eastern Iowa,” said UI Professor Emeritus John Strauss. “I have experience with symphony halls in Philadelphia and Boston. But there is something unique about Hancher.”

It also seemed to suit one of the forum’s younger audience members, 10-year-old Adam Zabner, who noted pre-performance picnics could continue there.

But there is the threat of re-flooding. The roads leading to this site would likely go underwater again, even if the building is safely elevated.

The east site, near Burlington Street, might be a favorable choice for the downtown college crowd.

The site would require the UI to purchase the land, however, potentially uprooting businesses there.
Many at the forum were verbal about the parking issue on Burlington Street.

While the east site’s location is a ways from the river and lacks a park, it has the sight of impressive architecture nearby with the Old Capitol dome, the Johnson County Courthouse and the Gothic towers of the UI Hospitals and Clinics.

However, Charles Swanson, the Hancher executive director, said location is not the only factor that could make the facility more student-accessible.

“I think it’s the program, the prices, the choices,” he said. “I’m hoping next year, even though we won’t have a building, we’ll attract more students with our $10 student prices.”

Swanson said it will take some time for the task force to decide on a final location and longer for construction to be completed.

“It’s going to take some time and some patience,” he said. “It’s a really important decision. We really want to make the right decision.”


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