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UI to appeal FEMA’s denial of funding art museum’s new location

BY COLLEEN KENNEDY | JULY 12, 2010 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa plans to appeal the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s denial of funding to build a new Museum of Art at a new location.

FEMA determined that the building is repairable, meaning damage from the 2008 flood did not exceed 50 percent of the cost to replace the facility to its pre-flood conditions. This causes the UI to be ineligible for funding for a new museum to be built elsewhere, according to the UI’s FEMA appeal.

But university officials said they will appeal the decision, arguing the building cannot return to normal conditions because the museum’s insurer, Lloyds of London, said it will not provide coverage if the artwork returns to the previous, high-risk location.

“We cannot return the collection there and have insurance for it, which is a key fact,” said Doug True, the UI senior vice president for Finance. “We are asking FEMA to reconsider financially supporting the replacement of the Museum of Art because of the new facts we have.”

The original Museum of Art building, built in 1969, was funded by private donors with the sole purpose of housing art. If the artwork cannot be insured at the current museum, the purpose of the building has been destroyed, Professor Emeritus H.D. Hoover said.

In addition, FEMA is requiring the UI to obtain proper insurance on the museum to help protect against future loss during a disaster before it will provide assistance. This is impossible at the current location, officials noted.

If the UI cannot meet FEMA’s conditions, it will not be eligible for future assistance from the agency should another flood occur.

Additionally, the Museum of Art would lose accreditation from the American Association of Museum, which would significantly damage its national reputation.

The UI, expecting to get the FEMA assistance, has already started the planning process to build on a new location. It put together a Museum of Art Envisioning Committee, which has named three possible new sites.

The university is also in the middle of a search for a new museum director; one candidate visited the campus in late June.

Despite the setback, those involved with planning for a new museum said they are hopeful the appeal process will come out in their favor.

Nancy Quellhorst — the president of Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce and member of the Museum of Art Envisioning Committee — said she believes the UI is well-positioned to appeal successfully.

Currently, the artwork is being housed in various locations on campus as well as in the Figge Art Museum in Davenport. Having a permanent museum is of critical importance, said Willard “Sandy” Boyd, the interim director of the Museum of Art.

Christopher Roy, another member of the Envisioning Committee, agreed.

“We can’t have one of the finest art collections in the Midwest on a floodplain,” said the professor of art history.

Iowa Homeland Security informed the UI of FEMA’s decision to deny funding for a replacement facility, but the university is still awaiting a formal decision in writing, according to the appeal letter.

It will likely be several months before the university receives a final answer to its appeal, True said.

DI reporter Trisha Spence contributed to this report.


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