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The long tradition of art on campus

Posted on June 11, 2020 at 4:00 PM by Sydney Marshall

Iowa State has a long tradition of world class public art on its campus, going back to the 1930s with Grant Wood and Christian Petersen contributing to Iowa State’s aesthetic mission. This tradition of caring for and acquiring public art would become formalized in the 1980s with the creation of the Art on Campus Collection and Program. Public art was added to the collection as new buildings were constructed or as renovations occurred, and were supplemented by funds from private gifts and commissions. The Art on Campus Collection has grown into one of the largest public art collections on a university campus in the United States, and continues to grow. For a detailed history of the Art on Campus Collection, refer to University Museums’ publication of Campus Beautiful.

In my first year as Assistant Curator of the Art on Campus Collection, I’ve gotten to experience the beginnings of multiple Art on Campus commissions. This process is unique in that it really is a democratic choice, individual to each acquisition project. The final decision of selecting public artists for the collection is held by project-specific committees. These committee meetings have changed over the past few months as we’ve moved to video conferencing to present artist proposals, but the goals remain the same- to acquire high quality art for Iowa State that will be relevant to students, can be used in curriculum by faculty and staff, and add beauty to Iowa State’s campus.

One of the most recent projects I’ve been able to work on is with the Ivy College of Business and its new addition to the Gerdin Business Building. The committee has representatives from throughout the college’s disciplines who provide knowledge to the artist to create a site-specific work of art. They represent the educational goals of the college, the needs of those who will view the art every day on their way to and from class, and provide content knowledge from their areas of expertise for the artist to tie in to their final product. For each acquisition, the committee writes a public art statement that represents the department’s values, research, and mission.

The committee for this project has chosen Rose Frantzen to paint a multi-part mural for the Gerdin addition. Before creating her proposal, the committee spoke to her about how their building’s current public art is used to represent their student’s experiences, and how this could be strengthened with this new acquisition. Rose incorporates this information as well as the public art statement into her proposal, and ultimately her public art. As I continue to work with groups across campus, I’ve seen how this process of committee leadership creates site-specific artworks that are representational of what makes Iowa State unique. Much of the collection can be viewed outdoors on ISU’s campus, or view a new digital map of the current Art on Campus Collection, and stay tuned for the unveiling of Rose Frantzen’s paintings in early 2021!

ABOVE: Artist Rose Frantzen

TOP PHOTO: Assistant Curator Sydney Marshall works on conserving a work of art in the permanent collection. She joined the University Museums staff in 2019.

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