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Public Art Incubator helps create and support the Art on Campus Collection

Posted on December 18, 2020 at 3:00 PM by Eli Harris

With over 2,500 works of art in the Art on Campus Collection, there is a constant need for maintenance, upkeep, and conservation as public art ages in Iowa's harsh seasons. In addition, there are challenges of resources and having a space or facility to complete this needed work. In recent years, the solution for some Art on Campus conservation projects has been found with the Public Art Incubator at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI).

Located in Cedar Falls (approximately 100 miles from Ames), the Public Art Incubator was started in 2011 and works in cooperation with the Art Department at UNI. The Incubator's purpose is to assist artists at all stages of their process to fabricate public art. Because of the sheer size and scope of many projects, sculptors and creators at UNI previously were not able to bring their visions to life. The new program at UNI aimed to solve some of those problems. Thanks to the resources of the university, the Incubator has the facilities necessary to build the bigger and more specialized projects.

Students are responsible for the operation of the facilities, giving them the opportunity to gain operations knowledge and get hands-on experience in one of the only programs of its type in the country.

The program is the brainchild of Tom Stancliffe, Professor Emeritus at UNI's art department. A veteran of the public art industry, he has a passion for the arts with a special focus on public sculpture. Stancliffe has been able to lend his help at the Incubator, building off years of experience with sculpture creation. His knowledge helps direct workers on the small details of creating public art. Little tips like how to design for ease of assembly and how to transport the sculptures when they're larger all help to smooth the process. Stancliffe is now retired as the program's coordinator.

Daniel Perry, the current coordinator of the program, says the Incubator has been a great resource for public artists. It assists professional artists, cities, schools, and more with ideas they couldn't make by themselves. Its workers come with a variety of skillsets and help on each project according to their ability. Some excel at using drafting programs to begin the fabrication process. Others possess a talent for sculpture painting. Regardless of the task being done, the result is always that the student has gained hands-on experience in a realistic setting. Besides providing facilities and labor, the Incubator also helps artists with advice on how to best complete a project and financial aid for materials. No matter how much or how little help an artist needs, the students in the program can get the job done.

ABOVE: As part of the staff at the Public Art Incubator, Sam Barnhardt paints the details of Start to Finish by George Mossman Greenamyer, which was removed for conservation in August and reinstalled at the Applied Sciences Center in September.

TOP IMAGE: Welding of parts for The Fifth Muse by Norie Sato in 2016.

University Museums has been able to benefit from the Incubator's services to help with a number of conservation projects. Perry said, "The way I see it, Iowa State considers us as a resource where we can get public art projects carried out reliably, within the budget, and on time." The latest collaboration was the repair of Start to Finish by George Mossman Greenamyer, which was re-installed earlier this fall outside of the Applied Sciences Center, Scholl Rd.

The Incubator also repainted the newly re-installed Ice Blue by John M. Henry outside of the Gerdin Business Building (image at left). They have assisted several public artists fabricate objects that are now located at Iowa State as part of the Art on Campus Collection, including Coalesce by Susan Chrysler White (located on the west exterior of The Hub) and The Fifth Muse by Nori Sato (located inside of Marston Hall).

One of the largest projects the Incubator helped University Museums with was recreating the G-Nomes, which are part of the larger G-Nome Project by Andrew Leicester. The original G-Nomes, which sit on each rooftop corner of the Molecular Biology Building, were made of terracotta in 1991. After 25 years in the elements, they deteriorated beyond the ability to conserve them. In 2017, the Incubator created full aluminum replacements with approved specifications from the artist.

Perry is happy with what the two institutions have been able to accomplish saying, "I think it's been a really good relationship, being able to work across universities," he said. The partnership has helped strengthen the relationship between the two universities and brought mutual benefits with it. ISU has been able to improve its sculpture collection while UNI has been able to further its students' real-life training in the art industry.  

ABOVE GROUP: The remanufacturing and installation of the G-Nomes in 2017, part of the larger G-Nome Project by Andrew Leicester at the Molecular Biology Building.

ABOVE GROUP: Artist Norie Sato worked very closely with the Public Art Incubator to fabricate both the structure and small details of The Fifth Muse, which was installed in 2016 inside Marston Hall.

ABOVE GROUP: Artist Susan Chrysler White speaks with Tom Stancliffe, recently retired from the Public Art Incubator, about her sculpture Coalesce, which was installed at The Hub in 2019.

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