If you’re coming to The University of Iowa to see your student, the hospital is probably the last place you hope to visit. But University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is worth a stop, even in the best of health: it’s home to a fabulous art collection and a medical museum.
If an iron lung from the polio epidemic isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of alternatives. The hospital’s offerings are just two of the numerous collections and museums on the University of Iowa campus. You can dribble a basketball on a floor from Iowa’s original Field House at the Athletics Hall of Fame and Museum, tread a reverse-spiral staircase in the Old Capitol Museum, marvel at a prehistoric fish that could grow to the size of a school bus at the Museum of Natural History, and see one of the most significant works in the history of art, Mural by Jackson Pollock, at the Museum of Art.
Beyond the museums, multiple collections may be enjoyed whenever buildings are open. They include the Paleontology Repository in Trowbridge Hall, whose hallways showcase mastodon and mammoth skulls; the Main Library’s Special Collections exhibitions, whose themes have included miniature books, locomotives, and flowers in American culture; and medical texts dating from the 15th century in the John Martin Rare Book Room of the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences. (For a complete listing of museums and collections, see the sidebar below.)
Iowa’s museums and collections educate, entertain, and inspire.
“Hawkeye fans come here to see the greatest of the great,” says Dale Arens, director of the Athletics Hall of Fame and Museum. That means displays, including Nile Kinnick’s Heisman trophy, that provide the “wow factor” for faithful fans of every sport. But the photos and memorabilia serve up more than nostalgia.
“Our exhibits detail a rich social history,” says Arens, citing displays that highlight the increase in athletics opportunities for minorities and women.
History is the theme of two well-loved Pentacrest museums: the Old Capitol Museum and the Museum of Natural History in Macbride Hall. Slightly more obscure is the history highlighted at the UI Hospitals and Clinics Medical Museum, which opened 18 years ago and gets nearly 40,000 visitors each year.
Focusing on medicine from 1850 to 1950, the exhibitions include medical, dental, and nursing implements such as the aforementioned iron lung, forceps, and an X-ray generator. Human gallstones and lung sections show the damage caused by disease, and interactive displays in the Salud: Latinos at Home and at Work exhibition give visitors the opportunity to see if they can lift a weight equal to that carried daily by farm workers.
“The museum is a great place to hang out, and you can learn a lot,” says Adrienne Drapkin, director of the Medical Museum and Project Art. “We explore topics such as the changes in scientific understanding and response to the body and illness, medical beliefs in various cultures, and how far medicine has come in a short time—for example, antibiotics weren’t widely available until the 1940s.” Drapkin notes patients often appreciate modern medicine more, once they’ve seen the alternative, and that although comments like “Oh, gross” are not uncommon, visitors still gravitate toward body parts and archaic surgical tools.
Drapkin also directs Project Art, which oversees the purchase and placement of permanent works of art: more than 3,800 original works, along with 2,200 reproductions, adorn hospital and clinic walls. The hospital purchases the artwork through its participation in the Art in State Buildings Act of 1978, which stipulates that one-half of one percent of the total cost of a state building project is set aside for art. Project Art also organizes changing exhibitions, performances, and sponsors the Art Cart, which offers patients the chance to choose a framed poster for their rooms.
“It’s a way of giving patients some choice, and it really brightens their day,” says Drapkin. The Art Cart relies on volunteers to choose the posters and take them to patients, which points to another important mission of the University’s museums and collections—providing paid work, volunteer, and internship opportunities.
One who’s taking advantage of that opportunity is J.J. Kohl, a senior math education major from Dubuque. This is his third year working with Dale Fisher, director of education for the University of Iowa Museum of Art.
“I wasn’t too familiar with art when I started,” admits Kohl, who originally was hired to set up for events. Today he serves as an education assistant, working 15 to 20 hours a week with area elementary schools, helping schedule class visits, maintaining a visit database, booking docents and keeping their records, and helping with tech support.
“I cannot overestimate all he’s done,” says Fisher. “He’ll be a hard act to follow when it’s time to look for another assistant.”
Kohl even took an art history class last year as a General Education requirement, something he might not have done in the past.
“I recognized styles of work based on what I’d seen here in the museum,” he says.
Some students working in museums are pursuing the museum studies certificate, earning credit or building a résumé for a career in museum work. [See story on certificate programs.]
But museums enhance learning for other students as well. According to Tiffany Adrain, collection manager of the Paleontology Repository, the collection’s fossils are used by geoscience and paleontology students, as well as students in Evolution and History of Life, a course taken by many undergraduates to fulfill a General Education requirement. Drapkin says medical and nursing students get a dose of the past at the Medical Museum, and art and art history, American Studies, and journalism classes meet in the Museum of Art.
Don McLeese, associate professor of journalism, takes his Arts and Culture Reporting students to visit with Fisher at the art museum early in the semester.
“Many students are more comfortable with the popular arts—movies and music,” says McLeese. “I want them to understand that the critical principles we learn in class can be applied to any of the arts. The museum is an incredible resource, and Dale does a great job of talking them through it—it’s an eye-opening experience for them.”
While learning potential is high on UI museums’ list of raisons d’etré, visiting parents should remember this bottom line: if you’re looking for a change from visits to the mall, check out a campus museum or collection. Says Arens of the Athletics Hall of Fame and Museum, himself the father of a University of Iowa student, “I’m the dad who carries the heavy boxes—I know how that feels. So give yourself a break and stop by—it’s something fun to do while you’re here.”
by Linzee Kull McCray