Museum of Art donations decrease since loss of facility


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Cash donations to the University of Iowa Museum of Art have dropped significantly since the 2008 flood, but museum officials say they are not in any immediate financial need.

Donors contributed $192,870 during fiscal 2010 — a decrease from $324,550 in 2009 and $523,024 in 2008.

The flood forced the collection out of its permanent home on the west campus. Since then, the more than 12,000 pieces have been housed throughout campus and at the Figge Museum of Art in Davenport.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency rejected UI officials' request for funding to rebuild the museum. Now, the school is appealing the decision.

Lack of a facility limits what the museum can do.

"We physically can't do as much," said Sean O'Harrow, who started in his role as museum director on Nov. 15. "We're physically prevented from programming so much because we don't have a museum."

O'Harrow said the amount of money museum officials request depends on the types of programs organized at the museum. Without a permanent space to host exhibitions, he said, the institution requests less money.

"We're getting what we're asking," O'Harrow said.

The museum should be in a "stronger position" for fundraising once an architect is selected to design the new museum, said Pat Hanick, associate director of development for the UI Foundation.

"But we're not there yet," Hanick said.

The donations for the art museum are not consistent with overall monetary donations to the UI Foundation, which has stayed relatively constant over the past three years.

Forrest Meyer, the Foundation's executive director of strategic communications, said the museum differs from other UI areas because it is not a college program.

"It doesn't have alumni or graduates per se," Meyer said. "But it does have its own fans and advocates."

In addition to fewer programs, both O'Harrow and Hanick said the economic recession has likely affected donations.

Dewey Blanton, senior manager of media relations from the American Association of Museums, said museums across the country have lost donations because of the recession.

"Giving across the board has taken a hit," Blanton said.

O'Harrow, who last worked as executive director of the Figge Art Museum, said the Figge experienced a slight increase in donations rather than a drop during the recession.

But that museum, he said, was fortunate in receiving large donations and legacies compared with museums throughout the United States.

"At the Figge, we just had a recession to deal with," O'Harrow said. "At the UI Museum of Art, we had a recession and a flood."

Hanick said some UI donors were eager to support with money and artwork in hopes a new museum is soon to come.

"People are just holding their breath waiting for the green light to flash for how we're going to do this," she said.

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