UI Center for the Book takes on $2.5 million fundraising challenge

The University of Iowa’s Center for the Book won a $2.5 million challenge grant from the Windgate Foundation.


Kate Heston

Madison Bennett and Kimberly Obee, both second year MFA candidates at the Center for the Book, evaluate colors for a project Bennett is working on. The University of Iowa Center for the Book is located in North Hall and has machinery for printing, pressing, paper making, and more. Many MFA and some undergraduate students spend time in this studio for school and creativity.

Morgan Ungs, News Reporter

Tim Barrett, a papermaker at the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book, recently retired. But in his absence, he is working alongside the center with goal of raising $5 million to continue the legacy of papermaking and book arts at the UI.

If the center succeeds in raising $2.5 million by Dec. 31, 2021, the Windgate Foundation will match the total by $2.5 million.

The Windgate Foundation is a non-profit that provides funding for contemporary craft and visual arts. Throughout the years, it has provided the Center for the Book with grants to support student research assistantships and fellowships. Barrett said the center decided to try and ask the foundation for a much larger grant, and it said yes.

Center Director Matthew Brown, who is also an associate professor of English, said it is a great benefit to have the possibility for the $2.5 million to be matched, and that the grant encourages the center to fundraise.

“It forces us to do fundraising, it’s going to help us down the line to make sure we can sustain ourselves independent of the big gift itself,” he said. “So, there’s a virtue I think, to the task we have ahead of us regarding our own future stability. What’s most exciting to me about the proposal and that it was awarded to us is its emphasis on student success.”

The money would go towards student support as well as supporting the staff members, Barrett said. Students in the arts that are not looking at financially rewarding careers after they graduate, are looking at engaging more with their passions, similarly to how he lived his life at the Center for the Book.

“They’re just like me, they can’t help themselves, they’re fascinated with art and books or the history of books in society and culture,” Barrett said. “They just want to be engaged and it’s so important that we find student support for those individuals so they can throw themselves into their studies.”

He was with the center when it was founded in 1986. Since then, Barrett has received numerous rewards and opportunities for his worked. He was asked by the National Archives to make paper that is sitting underneath the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives rotunda in Washington, D.C.

Barrett also received the MacArthur Fellowship in 2009 for his work in the field of paper making.

“I’ll tell you I hit the ground running and I’ve never looked back in terms of the time and energy I put into my teaching and my research and the Center for the Book,” he said. “I’ve just been totally enthralled with it and committed to it.”

Jeff Liebermann, assistant vice president at the UI Center for Advancement said the center has many things going in its favor, but one of the most prominent is Barrett. Liebermann said that Barrett is one of the most famous people in discipline nationally and around the world.

Liebermann said Barrett retired from the center this spring, but his work with this fundraiser is one of the many ways he is leaving behind his legacy for the center.

“Tim is working very hard in the early stages of his retirement,” he said. “He is one of the best fundraisers for the project because he’s so passionate about it.”

Brown said this fundraiser is one way the center can also honor Barrett. The center director said that Barrett has been at the heart of the program from the start.

Liebermann said the $2.5 million is massive endeavor, not just on the dollar amount but also the large group of people involved.

“It isn’t the biggest campaign by any stretch at the University of Iowa, but a project like this is a very big goal,” he said. “It is potentially impactful as anything we’ve done on campus for a long time in terms of philanthropy, but it’s going to take a lot of work to get there.”