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University of Iowa experience lends hope to MU Museum of Art and Archaeology

By T.J. Thomson
October 14, 2013

COLUMBIA — Dale Fisher of the University of Iowa Museum of Art brought a message to MU
on Monday evening: "Good things can come from bad circumstances."

Fisher, curator of education for the University of Iowa's museum, described the way his institution responded when a flood threatened its art collection in 2008. His lessons could be useful for the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology, which is moving from Pickard Hall to Mizzou North, about two miles from the main campus. He shared his experiences with a group of about 50 faculty members, students and Columbia residents Monday evening in Pickard Hall.

After the flood covered his museum's floor, Fisher and others stood on ladders in the basement to pick out which paintings to save. One of their most expensive paintings, a $180 million work by Jackson Pollock, was the first to be rescued. The painting was placed on a truck to Chicago.

The University of Iowa's situation was different from MU's for several reasons, Fisher said. His museum had little time to move its collection. MU, on the other hand, is moving because of potential radiation risks, said Alex Barker, who has served as the museum's director for seven years.

"We had three and a half days; you have a luxurious amount of time," Fisher said.

Pickard Hall once housed the university's chemistry department. During that time, a chemistry professor, Herman Schlundt, processed ore in the building, which "left behind contamination in some parts," Barker said.

MU has hired two art movers, Terry Dowd Inc. of Chicago and U.S. Art Company Inc. of Brentwood, to complete its move by December. The movers have already transported about 300 bins of material, Barker said. The museum staff has surveyed 16,000 objects and has found none of them to be radioactive.

Barker said MU is worried more about radiation in the building itself than in the collection.

The university has been monitoring the building for radiation since the '70s, MU spokesman Christian Basi said.

Five or six years ago, radiation regulation shifted from the state to federal level, under the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Barker said. The NRC has since called for MU to get rid of the radiation.

The MU Museum of Anthropology will also move to Mizzou North.

After the building has been emptied, the commission will perform a radioactivity analysis.

Despite the differences between the two moves, Fisher said the lessons he learned in Iowa can help Missouri.

"I don't have any answers in some kind of definitive sense, but I know where you're going because I’m five and a half years down the road from where you are now," Fisher said.

Since the flood, the University of Iowa museum has been in a temporary building without dedicated exhibition space. Because of this, it has spent its money on art education and community outreach.

The museum went from reaching fewer than 1,000 people through community outreach in the 2008 academic year to reaching 18,465 in the 2012 academic year, Fisher said. The University of Iowa Museum of Art's staff visited schools, libraries and senior living centers so that its community could still benefit from art.

The flood brought some positive things to the University of Iowa, Fisher said. He expects the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology's move to lead to good things, too.

"We can have bigger and better when we end up the other side of the path," Fisher said. "You’re all going to do that."

Fisher, an MU alumnus, added: "This building was too small when I was an undergrad, 30 years ago, so get more space."

MU graduate student Tony Pierucci, who is co-president of the Museum Advisory Council of Students, said he was excited to learn from an industry professional.

"It’s a great opportunity to learn from someone in the field who's going through something similar to what we're going through," he said.


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