IOWA CITY — A University of Iowa program for decades has made student art available for display around the campus, but thousands of items are tucked away in dusty storage rooms.

A collection known as the school’s Thesis Rental Gallery has more than 75 years’ worth of work by studio art students, featuring more than 6,000 paintings, prints, photographs and other artwork, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported.

Until about a decade ago, each studio graduate student was required to leave behind a work they completed while studying at the University of Iowa’s School of Art and Art History.

For $40 per piece, the art is available for rent to display in university buildings. About 500 pieces are chosen for offices, boardrooms, hallways and other public university spaces while the rest sit in a building on the University of Iowa Research Park in Coralville.

The original goal of the gallery was to make student work readily available for exhibition across Iowa, said Wallace Tomasini, who directed the School of Art and Art History from 1972 to 1991. But the scope had to be limited to the university because the growing collection required more time, effort, resources and space to coordinate.

The collection moved out of the flood-prone basement of the Art Building by the 1990s and into its current location.

Items from the collection have disappeared over the decades, according to Patrick Ellis, who has been coordinating the collection for the last decade. But that was primarily the result of the change in management every year to a new group of students, he said.

Ellis also noted the number of new pieces being added each year to the collection “slowed to a trickle” when administrators changed a policy to make submissions voluntary.

The rental fee helps pay Ellis’ part-time salary and for the basic maintenance he performs on frames and other display features.

The gallery is open about six hours a day two days a week. Ellis said he would like to see the school hire a full-time employee to oversee the collection and find a donor to improve storage conditions.


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