A lot of drive, a little time, and, appropriately, a touch of creativity have turned a former big-box store into an alternate home for The University of Iowa’s flood-displaced studio art programs.
As floodwaters threatened arts campus facilities this summer, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) administrators sought a temporary site for a set of close-knit programs with unique space needs. An unlikely contender emerged—a vacant onetime Menards store southeast of downtown Iowa City.
The building became the new Studio Arts facility, housing classrooms, studios, and offices for painting and drawing, printmaking, digital photography, design, metals, sculpture, and ceramics from the UI School of Art and Art History, plus production units for the Division of Performing Arts.
The facility keeps these programs united under one roof, opens intriguing avenues for collaboration, and makes clear how much the University values its acclaimed arts programs.
“Students are very impressed that we believe so strongly in what they do,” says Steve McGuire, professor of art education, who helped coordinate the move to Studio Arts. “There are challenges to being out here, but the students are glad to be together and glad to see this commitment to their education.”
Plans for the facility began days after the Iowa River crested in June, swamping the Art Building and Art Building West. By early July, local contractors including Hodge Construction had swung into action, going on to complete “a year’s worth of work in 29 days,” as McGuire puts it.
Happenstance helped propel the project forward. Architects and contractors drew on existing Art Building renovation plans to identify electrical demands and other needs. Information Technology Services made use of an empty conduit laid years ago to run network services to the building.
Cross-campus collaboration also was key. Cambus launched a special route to shuttle students back and forth, and speech and hearing experts recommended ways to combat noise. Security guards from the UI Museum of Art—also closed by the flood—took up new posts at the building, now open round the clock every day.
Although Studio Arts has been in use since the first week of fall classes, work on the facility continues. Gas-powered kilns for ceramics are on the way, and a wood-fired kiln will be built somewhere on site. “We knew we’d need modifications once we began to live in the space,” McGuire says, noting needs for sound abatement and improved lighting.
He and colleagues expect to use the facility for a year or more, and while they’ve settled in for the time being, they miss their home.
“All of us are attached to the Iowa idea of locating studio art and art history programs side-by-side, which was a first when it developed on our campus,” McGuire says. “We think that’s ultimately important if we’re to provide students throughout the University a complete education.”
School of Art and Art History
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Division of Performing Arts
Flood Recovery Information
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