UI Old Museum of Art renamed to Performing Arts Annex

The renaming of the facility signals improvements to come for the performing arts at the University of Iowa


Shuntaro Kawasaki

Old Museum of Art is seen across the Iowa River on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. (Shuntaro Kawasaki/The Daily Iowan)

Sydney Libert, News Reporter

The University of Iowa is preparing to have the Division of Performing Arts take center stage in the former Museum of Art.

The Old Museum of Art will now go by the interim name Performing Arts Annex as part of the university’s 10-year facilities master plan to have the building eventually house the Department of Dance.

While the building is not ready yet for the department’s transition, the introduction of a new name signals that dancers are one step closer to departing their current home in Halsey Hall.

“It’s like any old building,” Rebekah Kowal, Department of Dance department executive officer, said. “It’s charming, but it has its problems.”

Built in 1915, Halsey Hall originally served as a space for women’s physical education with locker rooms and courts that have been repurposed for the dance department. But over a century later, the space has issues conflicting with the needs of faculty and students.

Kowal expressed her frustration with a lack of uniform-sized spaces in the building. She noted that while some classes can teach up to 55 dancers at a time, others only fit 15 in a room.

“It’s hard to run a department where you’re so limited in terms of the number of students that can be in a space at any one time,” Kowal said.

The building also lacks climate control, with extremely cold conditions in the fall before the heat is turned on and no air conditioning to combat the studio’s rising temperatures in the spring and summer. Additionally, Kowal said the space only has two bathroom facilities to accommodate the hundreds of students the program serves every semester.

Kowal also said the abundance of stairs in the building, which she said is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, limits the department from being able to showcase its work to the public in the building and is not accessible to the entire student body.

However, the UI has found a solution in the Old Museum of Art facility, which the department plans to transition into in the coming years.

Although the building sustained significant damage after the 2008 flood, Federal Emergency Management Agency funds restored the museum back to its original state. Because of its proximity to the Iowa River and related insurance limitations, the university is unable to exhibit art in the space.

The UI Department of Theatre Arts has already started testing the space for rehearsals and research projects. The dance department will follow suit by temporarily occupying some areas before construction starts to make the space suitable for the arts.

Joshua Weiner, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences associate dean, said the college is aiming to help the dance department make some spaces in the Performing Arts Annex usable in the short term for classes, practices, and some small performances.

Additionally, the college recently engaged funds to renovate the Space Place Theater in North Hall, which includes installing ventilation, reupholstering chairs, and making improvements to the backstage and dressing room areas, he said.

“The college is doing what it can to support the dance programs,” Weiner said. “We really are trying to improve their facilities, which is one of the main things that they need.”

The complete relocation of the dance department is further out in the future, Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations and UI architect Rod Lehnertz said.

The process of moving the dance program and razing Halsey Hall for the expansion of the Iowa Memorial Union Parking Ramp is only one of the many projects the university intends to accomplish within the next decade.

RELATED: University of Iowa 10-year master plan includes razing Halsey Hall, Westlawn

Lehnertz said other projects outlined in the university’s 10-year facility master plan, like the development of a new impatient tower for UI Hospitals and Clinics and the creation of a new health sciences building, have first priority.

“In the case of a project – like dance moving to the museum – it’s an optional project. I mean, we can keep dance operating for some time out of a very old building in Halsey Hall,” Lehnertz said. “It’s not ideal. They have operated out of the building for decades and decades, but we know more and more it doesn’t serve the needs of our campus and that program as well was we’d like it to.”

Lehnertz also said updates to make the museum more suitable for the department, like floor-to-ceiling walls and locker rooms with plumbing, will take considerable funding the university does not have available. Lehnertz estimated renovations to the facility could cost upward of $20 million.

“We know it’s an important project, but to adopt it as a dance building will take considerable capital project renewal funds, gifting funds, and other things that will take time to amass,” he said. “There’s no hard timeline on it, but it will certainly be several years out.”