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Higher education

University of Iowa abandons art museum partnership

$80 million cost projection raised concerns

A room of paintings on display at the University of Iowa Museum of Art gallery at the IMU is shown on Friday, December, 20, 2013 in Iowa City, Iowa. Since the Flood of 2008 the museum has held exhibitions in a variety of locations, attracting 146,470 visitors over the 2012-13 school year. (Adam Wesley/Gazette-KCRG TV9)
A room of paintings on display at the University of Iowa Museum of Art gallery at the IMU is shown on Friday, December, 20, 2013 in Iowa City, Iowa. Since the Flood of 2008 the museum has held exhibitions in a variety of locations, attracting 146,470 visitors over the 2012-13 school year. (Adam Wesley/Gazette-KCRG TV9)

IOWA CITY — More than a year after choosing a private firm to develop a new Museum of Art, University of Iowa officials this month pulled out of the public-private partnership amid concerns — among other things — with rising project costs.

The decision follows a monthlong review of both the financial viability and programmatic needs for a new facility, which was expected to cost about $80 million, said UI business manager David Kieft.

“It is not the result of any actions or inactions on the part of the developers, but the reality of designing and constructing a privately built museum that requires unique climate control features to protect the art and assure appropriate accreditation,” Kieft said in an email to The Gazette.

The university would be responsible for covering most of that $80 million using general fund dollars, according to Kieft. To date, the university has spent more than $2 million on art museum plans — money Kieft said has not been wasted.

“The partial layouts developed and extensive information gathered by the university and design professionals will be used extensively by the university as it looks to create a new on-campus Museum of Art,” Kieft said.

The university had been planning to build a new art museum — after the old one suffered significant damage during the 2008 flood — on the southeast corner of Clinton and Burlington streets. UI officials in October 2014 announced an agreement with an LLC formed by Iowa City-based Hodge Construction and H+H Development Group to develop that site.

The development group in February 2015 identified BNIM Architects of Des Moines and Kansas City as “architect of record.” UI officials at the time said they expected conceptual renderings of the estimated 60,000-square-foot project in the spring or summer.

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Rising cost estimates and other programmatic needs diverted those efforts, but Kieft said the university is not abandoning its intentions to build a new museum.

“University leaders, including the Museum of Art staff, will spend the next several weeks or months investigating on-campus options that will make the museum more central to the student experience,” Kieft said. “The goal is to find a space that allows for collaboration with other entities on campus while remaining fully accessible to guests from around the region and the world who come to enjoy the university’s notable art collection.”

During the 2008 flood, which inundated many UI buildings, the university managed to remove its art collections hours before water inundated the old building along Riverside Drive. The site was deemed unsuitable for artwork going forward, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied funds to build a new museum away from the river, leaving officials to explore the public-private partnership.

Over the last eight years, art museum staff have had to find creative ways to engage audiences — organizing traveling exhibitions, loaning out work across the state, and setting up a temporary on-campus presence in the Iowa Memorial Union, for example.

Those efforts have produced largest-in-history audience numbers, setting an all-time museum record for statewide participation and attendance in the 2015 budget year and a record for overall participation in the 2014 budget year.

Much of that success came thanks to its exhibition, “Jackson Pollock’s ‘Mural’: Energy Made Visible.” That show attracted 304,349 at the Getty in Los Angeles during the 2013-14, and art museum officials on Thursday announced the exhibition set an all-time international attendance record with its showing at the Peggy Guggenheim Collective in Venice, Italy.

More than 253,590 people experienced the Pollock exhibition in Venice between April 23 and Nov. 16 last year. The exhibition, which presented the Pollock “Mural” along with more than 40 pieces from other praised artists, since has opened in Berlin, Germany, and it will open in Malaga, Spain, on April 21.

“This exhibition, and accompanying lectures and presentations, from the University of Iowa Museum of Art constitutes one of the highest, if not the highest, achievement for an Iowa organized exhibition on the world stage,” UI art museum Director Sean O’Harrow said in a news release. “What it tells people everywhere is that the art collection at the University of Iowa is clearly one of the most significant in American Modern Art, and what it tells people from Iowa is that they should be proud of this heritage and Iowa’s role in developing American and World culture during the 20th century.”

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Still, Kieft told The Gazette, the university is looking for ways to “begin returning all or part of the museum’s collection to campus.”

“This could be in a temporary or interim space, but would allow students to once again connect with the university’s extensive collection,” he said.

About the decision to abandon the public-private partnership for a new museum, O’Harrow conceded it’s a “change from the previous trajectory.” But, he said, museum staff are “very excited by the new opportunities presented as a result of looking at new options.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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