IOWA CITY — Building a new University of Iowa art museum after its original iteration was badly damaged in flooding a decade ago won’t start until the institution finishes raising at least half the $52 million price tag, according to UI President Bruce Harreld.
Toward reaching that $26 million fundraising threshold, the UI has generated about $17 million so far, Harreld this month told about 175 people representing 10 Johnson County-area service clubs during an Iowa City Noon Rotary Club gathering. That leaves at least $9 million to go before construction can begin on a project administrators two years ago said they hoped to complete in 2019.
“Every penny that we don’t raise has to come from our general education fund,” Harreld said about the fund that receives most of its support from tuition. “With 70 percent coming from our students, we need to be very, very, very careful about what we invest that in. It needs to be focused on students and research and the core mission of the institution.”
Although the proposed UI Stanley Museum of Art fits that mission, he said, many of the larger campus buildings damaged or destroyed in the 2008 flood — like Hancher Auditorium and the Voxman School of Music — got some aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But FEMA refused to help the UI build an art museum at a less-risky site across the Iowa River.
“So we said we’ll figure out a way to put in 50 percent for the art museum … and we think we can manage that without taking our tuition to an overly high level,” Harreld said. “But we can’t get it to 100. So we’re waiting.”
While the UI seeks more donations, much of its 16,477-piece art collection remains displaced, with 10,825 items at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport. Traveling exhibits over the years have sent UI art across the state, nation and world. Its most famous piece, Jackson Pollock’s “Mural,” hasn’t been displayed in Iowa City for more than a decade.
In summer 2016, months after Harreld’s hiring, he said he wanted much of the university’s art collection — including the donated “Mural” — back on campus in 12 to 18 months, even if it involved a temporary location before a new museum could debut.
Although much of the UI art still remains off site, Harreld this month reiterated his urgency to bring it home for Iowans.
“We need to get our art back into this community,” he said during the rotary meeting.
The university received a big boost toward its fundraising goal last year with a $10 million commitment from Dick and Mary Jo Stanley of Muscatine — attaching their name to a 63,000-square-foot facility slated for a parcel of UI-owned land south of the Main Library.
“We would really be in trouble without their $10 million gift that has gotten us now to around $17 million,” Harreld said.
Although the UI had planned to begin construction in 2018, millions in state budget cuts and a shrinking share of state aid for public higher education derailed it.
Harreld announced a temporary moratorium on new campus construction and the UI took other steps to cut the budget — making borrowing for a museum even more precarious and fundraising even more important.
“We’ll be able to start and dig and pay contractors to pay that out,” Harreld told The Gazette. “But at some point you can’t pay any more if you don’t have cash in the bank, and then you have to go borrow money. And we are trying to keep the borrowing amount as low as possible.”
The university has said it will pay for the project with a combination of private support and UI facility corporation bonds. That facility corporation is attached to its fundraising foundation and has borrowed $76 million over the past decade for its College of Public Health and Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building projects.
To date, it has $60.6 million in outstanding debt on those bonds, according to Brad Berg, policy and operations officer for the Board of Regents. The UI uses general education dollars to pay off that debt.
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