ICPL’s Art-to-Go collection allows the Iowa City community to take home art for free

Not everyone can afford original art in their home, but it can still be accessible by checking it out at the Iowa City Public Library’s Art-to-Go collection, which features artwork from Iowa City locals.


Gabby Drees

Art that can be checked out is seen at the Iowa City Public Library in Iowa City Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (Gabby Drees/The Daily Iowan)

Olivia Augustine, Arts Reporter

Having original artwork in a space can greatly add to its ambience, but that’s not always an accessible option for everyone. The Iowa City Public Library takes a step towards accessible art with its Art-to-Go collection.

The Art-to-Go collection was started in the late 1960s when less than a dozen posters and pieces of local art were donated to the library. Today, there are over 400 works of art in the collection.

Candice Smith, who currently coordinates the Art-to-Go collection, said the Iowa City library is one of very few libraries in the state to offer such a service, and the library’s collection is likely larger than that offered by other libraries.

Checking out art from the collection works exactly as it would a library book: Free with a library card. Artwork can be put on hold online or browsed through in person at the library. Two pieces of art can be checked out at once for two months at a time.

Smith said in addition to accessibility, a goal of the program is to use visual art as an educational tool.

“It’s a different method of learning in some ways,” Smith said. “It opens my own self to learning about art.”

Though Smith does occasionally buy art for the collection independently, she said one of the main ways artworks are collected is through the Art Purchase Prize Competition.

The Art Purchase Prize Competition is a juried contest for artists over 18 that live, work, or exhibit their art in the Iowa City area. It requires that artists have been in a juried competition prior to submitting their work to the Art Purchase Prize, but this rule may be relaxed on a case-to-case basis. Artists may submit two pieces per year.

After digital photos of the artwork are submitted, Smith discusses which images need to be viewed in person with her Art Advisory Committee, which is made up of Iowa City locals involved in the arts community.

Bekah Ash served several years on the Art Advisory Committee and has work in the collection. Ash has been a working artist in Iowa City for 20 years and was involved with art in public schooling for 18 years.

She said it was interesting to serve on the committee from an artist’s perspective, and that the members each came from very different backgrounds. In selecting art, she said that her goal was to create a versatile collection.

“We try to create a balance because, you know, different types of art appeal to different types of people,” said Ash. “I think kind of just coming up with a well-rounded collection, you know, a mixture of landscapes and portraits and maybe abstract versus photography.”

Ash said the Art-to-Go collection makes art accessible so that everyone can enjoy it – which is exactly what prompted Donté Hayes, the Art Purchase Prize winner of 2018, to submit his work.

At the time, Hayes was a grad student working towards his MFA in art and art history when he saw a poster on the third floor of the visual arts building asking for submissions. He said he had never seen a program like the Art-to-Go collection ever before.

Hayes said he thought it was powerful for people to be able to check out art like they would anything else and keep it in their homes, regardless of how much money they have.

“Anyone can enjoy your art, and that’s the reason why I really wanted to apply, because I feel like art should be enjoyed by everyone,” Hayes said.