Rocking out at the Stanley Museum of Art

On the night of Aug. 26, Gibson Square Park filled with people watching free live music from three different artists, including Houndmouth, in a celebration of the grand opening of the Stanley Museum of Art.


Gabby Drees

Houndmouth performs at the opening celebration for the Stanley Art Museum at the University of Iowa on Friday, August 26, 2022.

Stella Shipman, Arts Reporter

On the evening of Aug. 26, crowds gathered in Gibson Square Park, laying down towels or unfolding chairs to lounge and listen to the live music celebrating the opening of the Stanley Museum of Art. 

It was a beautiful night, the air humming with the sound of cicadas and the scent of popcorn wafting from the merchandise and refreshments tent. Tables lined the sidewalk by roped-off art sculptures while families sat on the steps of the museum. A small fleet of food trucks parked next to the library, serving throngs of people. 

The artists performing for this event included treesreach, a rock band from Cedar Rapids, bassist Pictoria Vark, an Iowa City local, and Houndmouth, an alternative rock band. They each played an hour-long set while the museum guided consecutive tours of its new exhibits. 

This musical celebration honored the new building, which replaced the one lost in the historic Iowa River flood of 2008. The Stanley Museum of Art has been under construction since 2016, when its project was approved by the Iowa Board of Regents, and officially opened earlier in the day with dedication speeches and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  

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treesreach began their set at 6 p.m. They had the whole crowd tapping their feet with catchy lyrics, a powerful saxophone solo, and an analog synthesizer. Bandmate Dillon Rairdin explained that treesreach has played in Iowa City before on other occasions, and how excited they were to be back because their experiences have always been so enjoyable. 

When SCOPE reached out to them about playing for the Stanley Museum of Art opening almost two months ago, they happily accepted. Rairdin explained that he had been both nervous and excited about the set. 

“It’s always a little bit weird when you show up somewhere and no one knows who you are, but you just do your best and try to catch ears,” Rairdin said. 

By 7 p.m., the park was packed with people, and the line into the museum had grown down the steps to the sidewalk. While the museum tourists waited patiently, they listened to the mellow bass and the soft voice of Pictoria Vark floating on the breeze. 

Victoria Park, as she goes by offstage, had intended to visit the original Stanley before it was flooded, but was not been able to, and feels thrilled that she has another chance. 

“It’s just amazing and awesome that it’s back,” she said.

As 8 p.m., rolled around, the long-awaited Houndmouth took to the mic to the glee of a mosh pit forming at the edge of the stage. Silhouetted against a dusky sky and spirals of fog, they had fans screaming as they harmonized chords and slammed on their guitars.

An older couple listening to the music, Mauro and Carmen Heck, recall the Stanley museum before it flooded. Mauro Heck noted how much he missed the Pollack piece in particular. He and his wife, who love to attend live music on Friday nights, said they were happy to see so many University of Iowa students enjoying the bands and celebrating the museum because its loss was so great. 

Gibson Square Park itself has felt “very empty” since the groundbreaking of the museum, said the curator of the African American exhibit, Cory Gundlach. Gundlach has been a museum curator for seven years, but was not with the Stanley until after the flood. 

“I know how important this is to the people who do remember it,” Gundlach said. “It’s finally a place where people look like they belong.”