At last: a home sweet home for UI’s prized art collection

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University representatives (L-R) Rod Lehnertz,Laura Lessing, Bruce Harreld, Sue Curry and Lynette Marshall are digging their moment at the Stanley Museum of Art groundbreaking ceremony. — Rachel Wachter/Little Village

The new University of Iowa (UI) Stanley Museum of Art broke ground on a beautiful sunny afternoon on Friday, June 7. Many excited and emotional spectators looked on as UI President Bruce Herreld; President and CEO of the UI Center for Advancement, Lynette Marshall; Director of the UI Stanley Museum of Art, Lauren Lessing; UI Director of Planning Design and Construction Rod Lehnertz; and the museum’s Interim Executive Vice President Sue Curry (stepping in at the last minute for Acting Director Steve McGuire), performed the ceremonial turning of the dirt. The five took the honorary shovels and turned over the trough of dirt with smiles.

The ceremony, held next to the location of the new Stanley Museum of Art in Gibson Square park, began with a rhythmic performance by artist and 2019/2020 Grant Wood Fellow Tony Orrico. With only his arms and self-calculated artistic measurements, Orrico took to his knees and began to swing his arms back and forth with pencil in each hand, turning in a mentally measured circle and swiping the paper, creating a balanced and timed beat. As Orrico continued his work, the crowd greeted each other with smiles and hugs, exchanging excited comments about a day that many had been waiting for: the beginning of the final journey to bring the Stanley’s beloved art collection home to Iowa City, after over a decade of waiting.

Grant Wood Fellow Tony Orrico performs ahead of the Stanley Museum groundbreaking. — Rachel Wachter/Little Village

At 3 p.m. sharp, Marshall took the stage, still full of smiles herself. The crowd quieted quickly. After introductions, she thanked the luminaries who turned out for the event, mentioning the legislative representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, Iowa Representative Vicki Lensing and former U.S. Senator Bob Dvorsky. Marshall also took a moment to mention others in attendance including former museum director Dr. Sean O’hara and Elizabeth Shriver, representing the Stanley family, who not only contributed countless pieces of priceless art over the last 30 years but also committed $10 million to the new museum’s construction.

In addition to the individuals mentioned, Marshall noted that the Stanley would not be here today without the generosity of alumni and friends. When the original museum was constructed in 1969, the cost was $1 million dollars, compared to the $50 million estimated cost of it’s replacement. With this rebuilding, campus will finally be able to bring over 16,000 pieces of artwork home, including the museum’s treasured Jackson Pollock painting.

“This will be the museum of the people of Iowa,” Marshall said.

President and CEO of the UI Center for Advancement, Lynette Marshall speaks at the Stanley Museum groundbreaking. — Rachel Wachter/Little Village

As Harreld took the stage, the tone of excitement continued. He explained that, in his mind, the 11 years of planning were worth the wait.

The new Stanley Museum of Art, he said, “is not only a museum, but part of the student experience. We have benefited from the time to do it right … Today marks the beginning of the end of the 2008 flood … So many [learning] institutions are running away from art … I think it’s very important we recognize the importance of the arts in our society. It’s a significant portion of how we are spending our time.”

“Arts are the University of Iowa,” Harreld said.

The Stanley Museum is expected to be completed in 2022. — Rachel Wachter/Little Village

Continuing Harreld’s message, Lessing explained that the new museum will be more than just a museum. “The museum will be a welcoming gathering place for the community,” said Lessing. “It will be your museum.”

First-generation college graduate and UI photography BFA Lindley Warren Mickunas gave closing remarks, expressing her gratitude to the art program at UI and her excitement for the new museum. “It’s truly exciting that the Stanley Museum of Art will soon be here,” she said. “It offers all students, faculty and the community a home in which to dwell and reflect [both] history and present through the eyes and hands of great artists.”

Construction on the new Stanley Museum of Art will begin later in 2019 and is estimated to be completed in the fall of 2022. The new location is directly in the center of the University of Iowa campus, across from the Main Library and next to Gilbert Park.

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