Building Creative Equity: The History of Project Art

As early as 1976, under the supervision of the Hospital Architect, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics selected a number of prints for public areas in an effort to humanize the hospital. The positive response from patients, visitors, and staff to the increased presence of visual arts led to the formal organization of an arts program. Following a 1977 feasibility study which recognized an interest in and a need for art in the health care environment, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics initiated Project Art in June of 1978, appointing Joyce Summerwill as Program Coordinator. Consultations with Wallace Tomasini, then Director of the School of Art and Art History, and several University of Iowa medical faculty who had a personal interest in the arts contributed to the planning and development of the arts program.

Under Joyce Summerwill's direction, Project Art opened its doors in 1978 with monthly art exhibits and leasing of art. Performing arts events were initiated in May of 1979, the Art Cart in June of 1980, and studio art sessions in June of 1981. Summerwill secured a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1984 and expanded Project Art's role to include consulting for other hospitals starting their own arts programs. In 1987, Summerwill conducted a feasibility study for a Patient and Visitor Activities Center which concluded in 1990.The Art Cart was introduced in June of 1980 as a result of a gift from the Iowa Rainbow Girls who chose this service as their statewide fundraising project for the year. The initial gift of $3,000 provided the actual cart and 100 framed reproductions. Subsequent donations and gifts by patients, staff, individuals, service clubs, and businesses have contributed to the growth of the Art Cart inventory to 800 works.

In 1987, the directorship was assumed by Jane Stone. Under her guidance, Project Art implemented art education internships at the Pediatric Bone Marrow Inpatient Unit. The following year, Deborah Burger accepted the position of director and remained in command through 1990. During her term, Burger added a "readings" component to the performing arts program (including evening poetry), introduced a "Guest-Fest" (walking tour of art for staff), and increased commitment to the staff choir, named "The Heartbeats" by her. Additionally, she modified the Folk Festival to include blues music and demonstrations of traditional art, acquired a second grand piano through the Volunteer Program, and began networking with Activities Therapy. Burger received an Iowa Arts Council Award for contribution to the State of Iowa in art. Writer and artist Barbara Moss held the directorship from 1992 to 1993, during which time University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics reaffirmed its commitment to the avant-garde in art.

Mark Towner began his term in February of 1994. His initial priority was to increase the number of musical performances and raise programming methods and standards to those of art museums. Furthermore, Towner saw the need to increase the number and scope of special events, programs, and exhibitions in an environment of health care downsizing and reduced funding in the arts. Installations administered by Towner include Windows, a collaboration by Jane Gilmor and pediatric patients in 1995, the 1996 presentation of The Face of Breast Cancer, and the 1997 Ying Quartet Residency.

Carl Lindquist was named director in 1999 and commissioned 11 paintings by Jafar Mogadam for the Department of Pediatrics. In 2002, Adrienne Drapkin, director of the Medical Museum at UI Hospitals, was named director of Project Art as well. She added the categories Emerging Artists and World Cultures, consolidating Turkish and Native American Art under the latter grouping.