The University of Iowa announced on Thursday that it will hold a ground-breaking ceremony for the new Stanley Museum of Art building on Friday, June 7.
“It’s been a long wait, but in just a few years we will be able to bring the Stanley’s world-class collections home to support the education of UI students and to enrich the lives of people across our state,” museum director Lauren Lessing said in a written statement. “With its welcoming front porch, spacious lobby, art-filled galleries, and rooftop terraces, the new building will be an ideal gathering place for those who want to learn, socialize, relax, and enjoy themselves.”
The museum’s original building was damaged in the 2008 flood. Since then, the exhibition space available for its approximately 16,500 piece collection has been confined to two rooms in the Iowa Memorial Union, and some shared space at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport.
According to UI, “The $50 million, 63,000-square-foot art museum will be located adjacent to the UI’s Main Library and next to Gibson Square Park.”
That’s a larger structure than the one described in the plan approved by the Board of the Regents in 2017. That plan called for a three-story, 45,000-square-foot building. The price tag for the project, however, has remained the same.
Speaking at the Iowa City Noon Rotary Club in December, UI President Bruce Harreld said that construction would not begin on the project until at least half the money for the building had been raised. Apparently, that is no longer the case. In its press release on the ground-breaking ceremony, UI said, “Fundraising continues as the museum works to raise half of the $50 million price tag for construction. To date, $20 million has been raised.”
The museum project wasn’t able to access a major source of funds that benefited three other, recently constructed arts buildings: the new Hancher Auditorium and the Visual Arts and Voxman Music buildings. Those projects received more than 60 percent of their construction funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as part of the agency’s post-flood restoration efforts in Iowa City.
FEMA funds weren’t available to the museum because the original museum building was still intact, and the agency considered it usable. Insurance companies disagreed. The museum would not be able insure its collection, which is valued at more than $500 million, if the art was housed in that building, which is vulnerable to future flooding.
Using the original building would also violate UI policy. Following the 2008 flood, the university mandated valuable items be kept at least two feet higher than waters would reach during a once-in-500-years flooding event.
The art museum is known for its 1943 Jackson Pollock painting “Mural” — which has been lent out to other museums around the world and hasn’t been displayed in Iowa City for over a decade — and its collection of African art.
“To the surprise of many, we have one of the finest African art collections in the country,” Jim Leach told Little Village in 2017. The former congressmen was then the museum’s interim director. “This spring we learned the publisher of the standard textbook on African art has ceased publishing it, because people around the world are using the University of Iowa website for African art studies.”
The core of that collection was donated to the museum by the Stanley family. In 2018, Dick and Mary Jo Stanley also donated $10 million to the museum. Following that donation, UI changed the museum’s name to the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art to honor the family’s generosity.