After almost 50 years, an abrupt end to Fine Arts Council

The student-run Fine Arts Council has been discontinued after an external program review found it no longer complied with realigned staff advisement support efforts.


Katie Goodale

A family looks at jewelry during the Spring Art Expose in the IMU Main Lounge on Saturday Apr. 21, 2018. Put on by the UI Fine Arts Council, the Spring Art Expose celebrates local artists.

Josie Fischels, Arts Editor

After almost half a century offering fine-arts showcases such as the Holiday Thieves’ Market and Riverbank Art Fair/Spring Art Exposé, the University of Iowa has discontinued the student-run Fine Arts Council.

The council became part of the university in the ’70s, hosting the annual Holiday Thieves’ Market in the IMU in December and the Riverbank Art Fair in the spring. Recently, the council canceled both upcoming events, and organizers told prospective art vendors their application fees would be refunded entirely.

“We are deeply saddened by the news and apologize for any inconvenience due to this abrupt change,” the council wrote in a mass email to nearly 200 artists. “… Your art has enriched the community surrounding the shows, and we could not have done them without you. On behalf of all the many students who have worked for this organization, we thank you for sticking with us for over 50 years of arts and community.”

Nellie Link, associate director of the Office of Student Engagement & Campus Programs, said the decision to discontinue the organization came after an external-program review conducted by the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, which has provided administrative support to the Fine Arts Council for more than 30 years.

That center is undergoing its own restructuring, The Daily Iowan has previously reported, and is now functioning as three separate offices — the Office of Leadership, Service, and Civic Engagement; Office of Student Engagement & Campus Programs; and the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life Programs.

Link said the review resulted in a redirection of resources to support initiatives that directly affect the education of larger numbers of UI students, a goal that aligns with the UI Strategic Plan.

Because the two primary shows the Fine Arts Council hosts annually are for the benefit of professional artists from both in and out of state, Link said the council’s efforts no longer fit the revised guidelines.

“While the Fine Arts Council’s two main shows, Holidays at IMU and Spring Art Exposé, have historically attracted many community artists and patrons, students have not been the primary participants or target audience for these programs,” Link said in an email to The Daily Iowan.

RELATED: UI restructures Center for Student Involvement & Leadership

Link said the expenses of the Fine Arts Council in fiscal 2019 totaled $22,848.12, with revenue of $21,875.50 from annual shows.

Jan Alan, who has resided in Iowa City since 2001, said she went to the Thieves’ Market every year.

“It’s a shame that it was discontinued,” Alan said. “It was a very good show; it was an excellent show … I will miss it very much.”

Alan said she met many artists that she wouldn’t have otherwise, and she would love to see them again so she could get to know them better. She wondered if somebody else could pick up the council’s activities if the UI will no longer support it.

“It’s something we want,” she said. “I don’t want to say we need Thieves’ and arts festivals, but it’s something we want.”

Grant Dyer, a stained-glass artist who has shown his work at the Holiday Thieves’ market for the last 27 years, said receiving the email from the Fine Arts Council came as an abrupt surprise to him and many others.

“It was [a] shock. It was, ‘What? Say what?’ ” he said. “It was always a really good show for me. I’ve sold very well, and there’s been a good response from people. It’s a shame — I was just totally shocked by that email.”

RELATED: Holiday Thieves’ Market wrapped up by UI Fine Arts Council

Dyer said he and many artists rely on markets such as Thieves as a final way to make money before the holiday season.

“As an artist, you rely on that one last good show of the year for a fairly good amount of money,” he said.

Kayli Reese contributed to this report.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article had a headline and sentence incorrectly stating that the Fine Arts Council had operated at the University of Iowa for more than 50 years. These have been corrected. The DI regrets thr error.