Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2010 | News

FEMA Flap

By UIAA STAFF
If at first you don't succeed… try, try again.

The University of Iowa will apply this old adage to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's recent decision not to fund a new home for the UI Museum of Art. FEMA's regional Kansas City office determined that the current building—located on the west bank of the Iowa River—did not sustain damage in excess of 50 percent of its value during the flood of 2008. The agency believes the building is repairable.

UI officials think otherwise and, with support from the Iowa Department of Homeland Security, have issued an appeal asking FEMA to reconsider. The problem hinges on the fact that the museum's insurer, Lloyds of London, will no longer provide coverage for the UI's art collection if it is placed back into such a highly vulnerable location—therefore rendering the original building incapable of housing fine art.

A Museum of Art Envisioning Committee had already begun searching for new building sites before the ruling. As art history professor and committee member Christopher Roy told the Daily Iowan: "We can't have one of the finest art collections in the Midwest on a floodplain."

Returning the museum's extensive collection to the old site, even with repairs, would still put it at risk of future flood damage; beyond this, such a move would violate FEMA's own safeguard rule that requires insurance on buildings and contents that receive agency support.

The UI's artwork, most of which was removed from the museum before the flood, currently is housed in various locations on campus and in Davenport's Figge Art Museum. Building a new museum would cost about $50 million; if FEMA ultimately refuses to cover any costs of new construction, the UI would need to pursue a private fund-raising campaign.

Officials are prepared to take their appeal to the federal FEMA office, if necessary, although a resolution likely will not be reached for several months. While the UI disagrees with FEMA, Provost Wallace Loh stresses that the university has enjoyed a constructive working relationship with the organization these past two years.

"Our disagreement is fundamentally about what constitutes a Museum of Art," Loh says. "While FEMA's assessment focuses on damage to the building, the university argues that the building and its art are inextricably linked."