Grant will help University of Iowa museums and libraries spread art and programming even in pandemic

A collaboration between four University of Iowa-based institutions will soon help bring their programming to wider audiences who can’t access them during the pandemic.

The Stanley Museum of Art, the Office of the State archaeologist, the Pentacrest Museums and University Libraries are partnering on the project, which secured a $200,327 grant to expand their senior programming in Southeast Iowa.

The money will be used to digitize collections from the four institutions and to create virtual events that senior living facilities can do with their residents. They also will record events, such as talks with scholars or art projects. The recordings will be available to access anytime online.

“We have about 4 million objects in our collection,” said Elizabeth Reetz, director of strategic initiatives at the Office of the State archaeologist. “We’ll be taking high-quality images of a lot of our objects and writing interpretation and question guides that can go with them … We have a lot of photographs digitized but haven’t had the time and money to really ramp up digitizing objects before now … The Pentacrest and UI Libraries are getting special cameras to do 3D tours of their galleries.”

She’s already been doing digital outreach during the pandemic, holding online lectures and discussions with archaeologists. This will be a chance to expand that effort.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve all been dabbling in this. It’s been a really short time to learn new ways of engagement and outreach,” she said. “Before, my office in particular spent a lot of time traveling to give in-person and classroom classes, and that all stopped.”

The grant is funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which set aside money for museums and libraries responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The grant also will help pay salaries for project staff whose jobs were jeopardized by the economic fallout of the pandemic.


The UI grant, titled “Connected for Life: Object-based Digital Programming to Foster Active Minds for Senior Living Communities,” started as an idea to expand the Stanley Museum of Art’s Senior Living Communities Program, which has been around for several years.

Program coordinator Amanda Lensing said before the pandemic, she was taking art programs to 17 senior living communities monthly and worked with 25 to 30 senior living groups in four counties. Even after the pandemic ends, this grant will help them reach more people.

“It was at capacity; we had a waiting list. Now, virtually, we can reach anyone,” she said.

They are starting with a needs assessment survey of senior living communities and then will start building the online portal. Lensing said a key concern is making the material accessible, which will mean making sure the videos are close captioned, as an example.

She said having access to programs like this is always important and even more so during the pandemic.

“Even pre-pandemic, just on a normal day, there’s still isolation and loneliness and people whose families might not be near them to visit,” she said. “Programming in general is good for stimulation and engagement … It helps with that isolation and sense of connection that’s so needed for all of us but especially for aging adults.”

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