Innovation center planned for old University of Iowa art building

One last building sits untouched on the University of Iowa campus after the treacherous floods of 2008, but university leaders are now hoping to morph the space into a future home for inspiring entrepreneurs — one decade later.

Iowa students used to take art classes on the west side of the Iowa River in the UI’s art building up until it was flooded in 2008. Employees with the school say inside the now-vacant building, there’s still writing on the marker boards from the last assignments taught inside and fliers on the walls for events from a decade ago.

The building, which opened in 1936, has since fallen into disarray with its broken steps, rusted window sills and busted out glass. It will first need some tender loving care but the university has a bigger picture planned for the old brick building.

"It will be a rebirth, if you will, of what took place here 70 years ago. It was innovation and creativity. Now, we’re going to transform the space into a place where people from all over campus can come down and learn about entrepreneurial and innovation and work together to solve big problems that could lead to start up companies but more importantly, education," David Hensley, executive director of John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, said.

Hensley said, inside, they envision it a place where traditional academic classes will be held plus workshops, seminars and spaces for meetings and collaborations.

"One of things we want to do is increase the number of opportunities for students to get hands-on experiential learning projects which can come from the health-sciences, engineering, and the arts. Not just the business school," he said.

According to Hensley, Iowa students represent 107 majors on campus that take entrepreneurial classes.

With a new vision for the building, it’s important to take note of its historical significance. On the right side of the building, close to the former UI Museum of Art building, is where famed Iowa painter Grant Wood once worked.

Wood worked for the university where he taught from 1935 right up until his death in 1942. During his time on campus, Wood would complete two well-known pieces of art, ‘Death on the Ridge Road’ and ‘Parson Weems’ Fable.’

Other artists of note to once walk through its doors was printmaker Mauricio Lasansky, painter Philip Guston, and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett.

"I can’t think of a better place for inspiration and motivation and collaboration to take place in than this building that served as that for the art community," Hensley said.

The university has pitched its idea to the Iowa Board of Regents who will have to give the final nod of approval before the renovation process can begin. If passed, the innovation center is expected to open in spring semester of 2021. 

The center would be funded by private donations and is estimated to cost $20-25 million dollars.

Hensley said the university will look to ways that they can pay homage to the famed artists, including Wood, that once worked there.



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