My Crow's Nest

In our UIMA e-newsletter that went out Tuesday, we put out a call for flood stories. Below is our first response, from Shanti Roundtree, an editor with the local publishing company Buckle Down. When I asked Shanti if I could post her story, which she wrote shortly after the flood in June, she wanted to make sure we knew that her home managed to avoid floodwaters -- though she did have to evacuate for about a week to avoid living on an island cut off from the rest of the city. She considers herself VERY lucky.

The flood was extremely hard for us all. Having such a birds-eye view of the river was, for me, especially troubling. Every otherwise normal thing felt so much more ominous, so foreboding. A lifelong lover of storms and showers, for a long time after the flooding, I was literally mortified at the mere touch of a raindrop. I've never felt more helpless as when I realized that, instead of surf and river rapids, I was beginning to see furniture and debris wend its way downstream with regularity. These effects were once a part of people's homes and intimate lives. The river made me into a voyeur. Transfixed, as much as it bothered me, I could not force myself to turn away. Part of my vigil was to make sure that the flotsam remained, outside of trees and carcasses of fish, ever inanimate...If I can name it as such, perhaps that proximity to the river is where my writing passion derived from...

I live off of Riverside Drive and from my porch I have a clear view of the Dairy Queen, the Jail, and the Iowa River that divides them. In June, the river sought to join them.

I'm still amazed at people's reactions to the crisis. Hundreds of Iowa residents can access their normal routes, limited as they already might have been: to the mall, to their gas station, their jobs. Their homes are 'on a hill', high and far away from the University. They are not intimate with the rivers or creeks, save the occasional treat trip to a downtown festival or an anniversary dinner at Verde's. To these, far east or far west-siders, the flood begins and ends each night with a pop of pixels on a screen.

In my own circle of friends, many sentiments echo the same tone, "We knew You'd be O.K." Initially, the thought was nearly universal that I'd be okay.

As a result, people fell on either side of the spectrum. A precious and appreciated few people lent significant moral support, offered me plane tickets, places to stay, resources, sandbag help, and other tangibles.

Before leaving home, I watched the waters continue to rise and flow, carrying with it chairs, oils, branches, and other flotsam. I witnessed the depth of the falls minimize by the day: once a frothy prolonged drop turned to a distance it takes to pour a cup of coffee. The violence of the river astounds me still. Having spent many Sunday afternoons near the underside of the bridge, reaching in with my lure to pluck wipers and pumpkin seeds from the current, I felt I knew the river. Musky salt-licked air and the 'choffing' sound of surf against mossed rock always soothed me and steeled me against the impending work week.

Now churning, swirling, eddying--the flow turned unreliable. Unpredictable and unfamiliar to me as an inferno would be, oxygen-fed and kindling-lit.

On June 13th, a Friday, The Iowa River first burst forth on the east side of its banks and roved closer to the university community. From my porch vantage, I saw the brackish waters pool, then push toward parked Cambuses, gas pumps, the city jail. Sandbag after sandbag, slumped one on top the other, seemed a feeble border to keep the surge out. Yet, hopeful, stolid, and soon to be sun-reddened, the Iowans persisted. Citizens lopped bags, end over end, through many sizes of waiting hands. Volunteers, quite tenderly cradling each with the prayer that it would do its part and then tossing the bag on, in timed rhythm, toward the growing wythe. Thrown bags, the size of 9 month-olds, huddled in anticipation, with sweat as the mortar.

From my porch I could see this. Then, the waters broke on the west side of the river, onto my side. The creeping current revealed three secrets of the topography of Riverside Drive. The roadway crowns in front of the Kum and Go, Myrtle Street, and the alley driveway that enters South Riverside Court. Save this giant thumbprint of dry space, the whole of Riverside Drive seemed covered in standing water.

For what I needed to see next, the grassy slope abutting Myrtle was an even better crow's nest than my porch. I flip-flopped across the paved alley, down the sloping sidewalk and tar, and upward through the moist grass.

The brow of the hill overlooked the university and its sandbaggers. From a distance, their retaining wall seemed made of rough ashlar instead of webbed bags of silt.

For a while, I sat, watching the arching machinations of the Iowans at the waters' arc. I observed the movements of the river. Iowa had breached across the car-lot, the four lanes of Riverside Drive, and lapped against the grass at the base of my perch. Rippling through the water, were several fish--lunker carp, to be exact. As they looked for worms and beetles in the sediment, they flopped, sucking air very audibly before each eventual submerge.

In time, a family of two came closer. I saw the father first, still dripping from having waded through the waters which flowed from further down Riverside. As he strode over the shrinking area of dry concrete in front of Kum and Go, the Asian man began tucking in his white polo. His daughter, hair in pony-plaits, walked as he walked from one side of the river's embrace to the other. Calf-deep, the father created swirls for his daughter to wade through. She removed, from the crook of her elbow, a parcel which she then gently unfolded into a sheet. This she handed to her father who was already beside the fish, standing poised and very still.

I got up.

Walked back to my house.

Finished packing my cases with summer clothes, wedges, food, and watermelons.

Lunged them all into the car.

Drove down South Riverside Court.

U'eed in front of Kum and Go, and geared it up Myrtle Avenue.

Splashing through the water on the other side of the river, I was one of the last to drive over the Burlington Street bridge.

When news of the flood became national, people across the country were curious about the damage, FEMA, and my safety. Once satiated, folks mostly breezed me another email or two, then almost immediately fell back in line relying again on me to help them out through whatever chronic life-crisis they had been dealing with before.

Meanwhile, I'm living in a good friend's basement, can't return home for several days yet, and when I do--the stench will be deplorable as my neighbor's basement apartment had been flooded with rainwater before the river's breach.

In short, I'm fine.

I'm Okay.

-- Shanti Roundtree


Your Story

We know we're not the only ones who have been effected by the flood. So many have lost homes or places of work, and so many more have participated in the volunteer efforts surrounding the flood, from sandbagging to cleanup. We want to hear your stories -- tell us how you've been effected by the flood, your thoughts for moving forward, or just general ruminations. Send stories to margaret-anderson@uiowa.edu, or respond to this blog post with a comment. (Instructions here.)

If you haven't yet read the story of the UIMA evacuation, you can find it here.


News articles -- What are your thoughts?

The UIMA has been getting a lot of attention for rescuing the collection. We've also been getting attention concerning the future of the Museum -- and people have some very strong opinions! Here are excerpts from some of the local articles written about the Museum. Make sure you check out the comments on the articles to read what other have said.

And while you're at it -- why not let us know what you think? How do you think the University should handle the arts campus? Should we go back to the river? If not, where should the new building be? Downtown? Another location on the arts campus?

From The Gazette, article by Diane Heldt:
"The University of Iowa Museum of Art likely will never return to its flood-damaged home on the Iowa River's west bank, UI President Sally Mason said.

Mason said UI officials must consider whether Lloyd's of London, which insures the collection, would continue to do so if the collection is returned to a building in a floodplain.

'Will that building be used as an art museum? I don't think so at this point,' Mason said. 'I'm trying to prepare people to think in terms of an art museum not in a floodplain.' "

Daily Iowan article by Jennifer Putnam and Lauren Skiba:
"Now that the waters have receded, UI Vice Provost Tom Rocklin said, if the museum has to move, it might come down to money.

'A big concern is where the funding is going to come from,' he said.

At this point, the university has made no plans on funding. Because of that and other concerns, Rocklin said, officials have not made a formal decision yet on whether the museum will be relocated.

'First, we need to get a full understanding of risks at the current location,' he said.

If the move is found to be the best outcome, interim Art Museum Director Pamela White said fundraising will be required. She believes, though, that keeping the art safe trumps cost-effectiveness."

Daily Iowan Editorial
"With the UI Museum of Art having faced so much destruction in the flood, the best move it can make is to move.

Relocating the museum would ensure that it comes back even better than the wonderful place it has been. The new museum would be refined and revamped. It would stand as our triumph in the face of the flood. Hopefully, lengthy discussions and evaluations can be avoided - because the community, the Arts School, and the UI need the museum back. Obviously, until all the risks of the museum's current location are fully evaluated, there can be no official decision. But the only real risk that matters is this: The current location is susceptible to future flooding. Imagine the new UI Art Museum erected in the heart of downtown Iowa City.

This image is no mirage. As reported by the DI, the museum's then director was in communication with a local developer to explore the potential of this move last year. However, nothing came of that discussion. This year, now that the city has withstood the floodwaters, these talks should begin again. The museum's new home ought to be in downtown Iowa City.

Iowa City prides itself as a community that thrives on the arts: the music festivals and street performers downtown; the Literary Walk on Iowa Avenue; the sculptures on the Pedestrian Mall; even the artisans who can make an easy buck selling their handmade bead jewelry. The arts make us, quite literally, who we are. They are our greatest source of culture and identity. The downtown community will flourish with the arrival of the Art Museum.

The museum is all the city is missing. We have the historic Prairie Lights Books to hear renowned authors. We have many concert venues for acclaimed musicians. We have great restaurants, crazy bars, and unique shops. We have bricked sidewalks for banjo players and interpretive dancers. But imagine if we had the resources of a university art museum in that same area, too.

Instead of being tucked away in its quaint location along the Iowa River, the new UI Art Museum would stand tall as a trademark of the downtown vibe. A sort of harmony could be forged between the culture of the city and the art of its inhabitants, between the community and the campus.

The flood has receded, but the museum's relocation would mark a comeback and a final victory over the disaster. It would stand as a monument and commemoration, reminding us that although the flood gave us a multimillion dollar beating, we have risen above it. We could look to the museum as a sign of the community's strength. We will have prevailed using a building made up distinctly of what we are.

We all need "art for art's sake," but we need the museum for the community's sake."


Flood update

Just a brief update to the story of the UIMA evacuation that we posted earlier:

In the weeks following the flood, conservators entered the Museum and removed the remaining objects to the secure art storage facility in Chicago with the rest of the collection. The conservators' early evaluations of these works are overwhelmingly positive: They believe that fewer than 10 objects were actually touched by the flood waters, and that none of the art works sustained lasting damage. We'll keep you posted as we learn more about the next steps for the UIMA collection in the coming weeks.


Moving Forward

It has been a really great experience, during this hard time, to hear such supportive comments from the community at large. It has also been a real honor to work with the K-12, University and public audiences in the past—and I can’t wait to have the chance again in the near future.

One thing that I have found is that even though the future is ambiguous and the challenges seem overwhelming at times, the UIMA Staff remains as committed to the tasks at hand as ever. At a time when we have had every reason to feel anxious and depressed, or indulge in our own “idiosyncratic meltdowns” (which I believe each of us has done, at one time or another), the staff as a whole remains really optimistic and energized. I guess it comes with the conviction of having work that you believe in and the faith that even though we won’t be what we once were—there’s no reason we can’t come back even better!

For example: Education Assistant J.J. Kohl and I have been working on 14 different proposals for educational programming. Five of these proposals will happen during the 2008-2009 academic year, and the other five are for when the UIMA has a location and our collections are returned. Since the UIMA isn’t housed and the collection is inaccessible, the nature of engagement for the audience and docents will change; there’s still a lot to do, though I am hoping our visitors and volunteers will stick around for the ride.

Speaking of which, my contact information remains the same—even though we have new digs. We are at 251 Macbride Hall. It is a nice office behind the elevator shaft, and I am really thankful to be settling in-and that the Museum of Natural History staff has been such gracious hosts to us. We are, admittedly, a noisy and opinionated bunch…

So, with your continued support and encouragement, I will get back to work.

Dale Fisher
Director of Education
University of Iowa Museum of Art


A quick update

I just wanted to fill you all in on a few of the plans for the coming semester that we have made.

But first, some general news: The UIMA staff is still sharing offices with the Museum of Natural History staff in Macbride Hall. Buffie Tucker, Pat Hanick, and I have invaded Sarah Horgan's office in room 14 and somehow managed to quite comfortably fit three more desks in the space! In room 11, the Natural History Museum's main office, Cindy Opitz (MNH Collections Manager) now shares with Betty Breazeale, our secretary, Jeff Martin (Registrar/Exhibitions), Steve Erikson (Preparator) and several students. Three other staffers got an office to share on the second floor: Dale Fisher (Education Director), J.J. Kohl (Education Assistant), and Dave Riep (African art curator). Pam White (Interim Director) and Kathy Edward (Chief Curator) are sharing the space in room 10. And our security guards are currently helping out at Old Capitol Museum and monitoring progress at the UIMA building. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to visit us in our new digs -- we really appreciate you thinking of us! And a big thanks to the MNH staff for making room. We can't say enough about how good you've been to put up with us.

Now, for the future. The good news is that we will still be able to host two of the temporary exhibitions we had planned. We've lost our big show, Jess: To and From the Printed Page because we don't have a large enough space to house it, but the other two shows are smaller and we've found venues for them. One, an exhibition of prints by Daniel Heyman about the Abu Grhaib prisoners, will be in the Old Capitol Humanities Gallery; and the other, and exhibition of early hip-hop photographs by Harry Allen (writer associated with Public Enemy) will happen in a yet-to-be-determined location. Both of these shows will be really great and have some fun programming associated with them, so keep your eyes peeled for more info.

We've also managed to squeeze almost all of our programing (Writer-in-Residence Readings, Know the Score, etc.) onto Old Cap's calendar. In addition, all of our docents will be meeting at Old Cap -- the collection may not be physically in Iowa City, but there's still plenty of work to be done, and we need the help of our docents, volunteers, and patrons more than ever.

We're still planning to put out our magazine in late August that will detail this schedule, so look for it in the mail. Other than that, I'm going to try to post something on the blog at least once a week from here on out, just to keep you all in the loop about what's going on here!

--Maggie Anderson

Flood photos

I know -- I've been promising these photos for quite a while! But here they finally are. I'm going to start with the most recent ones from Wednesday of last week when I got inside the UIMA to see how the cleaning is going. This was the first time I'd been inside the building for nearly four weeks, and I was honestly surprised by how good the building looked, all things considered. Of course, they have been cleaning nearly that entire time. I can only imagine what it looked like before all that work. And it's incredibly sad to see all the empty walls and shelves...but let me just show you what I mean:

The view from the outside of the building. It was really noisy around here where a lot of the work was going on.
This is where the Pollock was hanging. You can still see some of the wooden supports on the wall.
Some of the workers converse in the painting galleries. See the sign for the MFA show? And see how the wall is cut out underneath? They have cut it that high even though there was only 3-4 inches because apparently the water (and mold) travels up the sheet rock.
These white plastic tubes where carrying cold air all around the building -- climate control.
The old entrance, with some chairs wrapped in plastic.
Storage. Those metal shelves were stacked floor to ceiling with artworks. Each had a specific location on the shelves, which were specially designed to hold the works. It's so sad to see them now!
These racks usually hold paintings in storage.
View of the sculpture court. You can see the water line on the wall across the way. Since that room is recessed, the water was up much higher than on the main floor.
Pillar in the Atrium.
Looking onto the entrance of the North Gallery. The atrium is through that door on the right.Lasansky -- this room is probably the worst on the main floor. The lower galleries (where the Ancient American art was on view) were worse but it was too dark to get a good picture. Those galleries, as well as the basement, were basically full of water.
Atrium. The offices were blocked off by that plastic barrier that you see in the right-background.
Big Boy wrapped in plastic!

All right -- that's all for now. I'll be posting some more photos very soon, as well as updates about our plans for the future. Stay tuned!

--Maggie Anderson