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Art On Campus Collection & Program

Iowa State University is home to one of the largest campus public art programs in the United States.  Over 2,000 public works of art make up the Art on Campus Collection, including 600 by significant national and international artists, and are located across campus in buildings, courtyards, open spaces and classrooms. The Art on Campus Collection and Program, formalized in 1980, includes acquisition, care and maintenance, in addition to scholarship and educational programming. 

The traditional public art program began during the Great Depression when Iowa State College’s then President, Raymond M. Hughes (1927-1936), envisioned that "the arts would enrich and provide substantial intellectual exploration into our college curricula." Hughes invited Iowa artist Grant Wood (1891-1942) to create the Library’s agricultural murals that addresses the founding of Iowa and Iowa State College and Model Farm. He also offered Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885-1961) a one-semester sculptor residency to design and build the courtyard fountain and bas relief at the Dairy Industry Building. In 1955, 21 years later, Petersen retired having created 12 major site specific sculptures for the campus, and hundreds of small studio sculptures, many of which are in the University Museums’ Christian Petersen Art Collection.

Did you know…
-In the 1930s, portraits were actively commissioned of distinguished faculty, notable alumni, presidents and administration. This portrait tradition continues actively today.
-The first public art on campus were two bas-relief murals by Nellie Verne Walker (1873-1973), a female Iowa sculptress, in the 1920s for the east, exterior of the original Library building.

What is the Art in State Buildings Program (AiSB)? 
 In 1979, Iowa passed the Iowa Art in State Buildings legislation, which mandates one-half of one percent of new construction or remodeling funds to be used to acquire public art.  The best approach, determined in 1979, to enact the legislation for Iowa State University was one that incorporated the land-grant mission philosophy—a democratic process in which decisions regarding public art associated with new buildings be made in conjunction with each of the buildings’ public art acquisitions committees. These committees are made up of faculty, staff and student representatives of the buildings’ academic units and University Museums, with consultation from the project design team.

To this day, these public art acquisition committees still follow the policies and procedures developed in the early 1980s: writing the philosophy statements; setting up the process to review public artists; selecting the artists; reviewing and selecting the public works of art; and monitoring the budget for the projects. Each committee has control over aspects such as giving preference to expression and styles of proposed public works of art—for example, realistic, narrative, or abstract. Most importantly, the committee—not University Museums—has final approval of each artist’s proposed public work of art. The primary responsibility of the museums staff is to ensure a pool of professional, national public artists is available from which to review, select, commission, and acquire; and followed by the University Museums’  the long-term commitment to care/maintenance and integrated educational programs. All artists’ pools contain gender, heritage and expressive/artistic diversity.

Did you know…
- Since 1979, Iowa State has completed over 100 Art in State Buildings (AiSB) projects, commissioned or acquired over 700 works of public art, and involved over 1000 faculty, students and staff in the AiSB commissioning process.
-  Utilizing other fiscal support, the Art on Campus acquisitions projects total 8-10 projects annually.

In the beginning, public art traditions on campus were informally established, and have become more formalized recently. Through these transitions, there are several significant traditions that have been ongoing:

Public art is not required to be beautiful, although it often is. Yet, by definition, Iowa State’s public art is required to be intellectually relevant to the contemporary campus and utilized in curricula. At times, these diverse expectations can generate controversy, which can be a key element in discussing, teaching, and learning about the multitude of ideas and expressions expected of a world-class university. The Art on Campus Collection and Program, along with the Iowa Art in State Buildings Program, embrace public artists who engage us in new and different ways while also appreciating the artists who, with each new project, resound and reflect our university back to us in wholly original ways.

Learn more about the Art on Campus Collection

Lost & Found Art

Christian Petersen

To see more images or receive further information on the Art on Campus Collection, click here to search eMuseum or contact the University Museums office at 515-294-3342.

The cost is free.

The Art on Campus collection is available to the public for viewing 24 hours a day, year round (some restrictions apply to art located inside buildings). 

To arrange a tour of the Art on Campus Collection, please download the University Museums Tour Request Form and submit or email to Dave Faux

The Art on Campus Collection is located on the exterior and interior of buildings across campus at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Please see the selection of maps below.

If approaching Ames on Interstate 35 from the north or south, take exit 111B labeled Highway 30 West. From westbound or eastbound Highway 30 take the University Blvd. (formerly Elwood Dr.) exit and turn north. University Blvd. will pass on the east side of Jack Trice Stadium and Hilton Coliseum, continue north to Lincoln Way. Turn left on Lincoln Way and proceed west to Union Drive. Take a right on Union Drive which will lead to the Memorial Union ramp or turn right on Wallace Road to the East Parking Deck.

There is paid ramp parking at the Memorial Union Ramp (aprox. 2-4 minute walk from Morrill Hall). Entrances are from the south off of Lincoln Way and from the North off of Union Drive. There is paid parking at the Armory – Lot 21 (aprox. 2-4 minute walk from Morrill Hall). The East Campus Parking Deck is located on Wallace Road where it intersects Union Drive near Forker Building. There are also meters in several of the lots on campus. Please read the signs and time limits on the meters carefully. Map of parking lots

Online interactive map
Map of Art on Campus (2015)