The Scoop: Looking for a date night that encourages creativity and connection? The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art in Iowa City offers an immersive and diverse date location where couples can engage with visual and literary art – and even create their own. The Stanley Museum of Art is home to diverse collections of art, including modern, contemporary, ceramic, African, and American Indigenous arts. The museum hosts regular programming where couples can create their own works, inspired by the Stanley.

German-born artist Hans Haacke, who is best known for creating art that grapples with the corporate and political, said, “Museums are managers of consciousness.”

Haacke clarifies: “They are, if you want to put it in positive terms, great education institutions. If you want to put it in negative terms, they are propaganda machines.”

Haacke’s quote captures the critical cultural importance of museums and how they inform, sway, and remind us. They can also urge us to reflect on what we remember and how we choose to remember it.

Exercises in collective and cultural memory are powerful and transformative, and museums present this opportunity. I’m all for dates that don’t grapple with collective memory (think going to see a movie, grabbing a drink, or Netflix-and-chilling), but museum dates present couples with a unique avenue to engage with art, history, and each other, all at the same time.

The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art offers couples this opportunity. The museum has one of the top university art collections in the country and offers workshops and hands-on experiences that make for exciting, engaging, and meaningful dates.

stanley museum writing workshop
The Stanley Museum of Art is the perfect date spot for Iowa City art-lovers.

Mahvish Farid is the Communications and Marketing Director for the museum. She told us about the museum’s exhibitions, galleries, and workshops, and how couples can make the most of a date to The Stanley Museum of Art.

“I’ve attended a few of the workshops with my husband,” Mahvish said. “I found that I had so much more to talk about with him at the end of the day, you know, what we experienced there and how it made us feel.”

Exhibitions and Galleries That Inspire

Mahvish told us about some exhibitions currently on and upcoming at the Stanley that couples could enjoy on a date. The exhibitions are diverse, so couples can choose one that fits their fancy.

Homecoming” is The Stanley Museum of Art’s inaugural exhibition, which will run until 2025. The exhibition contains works from the museum’s extensive permanent collections and was organized to reintroduce the collection to the public.

“Homecoming” is made up of a series of related installations developed by curators, educators, and university faculty. The exhibition includes explorations of University of Iowa history along with African art, textiles, and face masks. Cory Gundlach, Curator of African Art at The Stanley, developed two of the African art collections that are a part of the exhibition.

“We have an exciting exhibition coming up next year that features a mural that Keith Haring painted during his time in Iowa City in the ‘80s,” Mahvish said. “He came to Iowa City twice, and he would visit this particular elementary school, where he had a wonderful relationship with the children and art teacher there, Colleen Ernst.”

keith haring with his mural at horn elementary school
Keith Haring’s connections to Iowa City are explored in the Stanley’s 2024 exhibition.

To My Friends at Horn: Keith Haring and Iowa City” opens on May 4, 2024, and celebrates Haring’s two trips to Iowa City, in 1984 and 1989. The exhibition celebrates the mural he made as a gift for Horn Elementary School while in partnership with The Stanley Museum.

The Stanley Museum of Art partnered with Horn Elementary School and The Haring Foundation to preserve the mural as the school undergoes construction. The mural was recently moved from the school by conservation experts and is stored at the Stanley, where it will remain until construction on the school is completed.

The mural is classic Keith Haring. Bold and colorful figures, letters, and objects ooze with a childlike playfulness that’s perfectly fitting for an elementary school. The exhibition contextualizes the mural with memorabilia and other ephemera collected from people who encountered Haring during his time in Iowa City, including students and teachers at Horn Elementary School.

The exhibition is perfect for couples who want to engage with an iconic artist in an intimate setting. The exhibition is about the connections Haring made in Iowa City and serves to remember the iconic artist and his connection to The Stanley Museum and the people of Iowa City.

Engaging With Global Visual Cultures 

Couples who are looking for a more hands-on museum date will be delighted to hear about the museum’s educational programming. The writing program at the museum was central to its mission of art and education.

“I feel like there are few museums out there that are as integrated with the writing community as The Stanley is, particularly because we have a writer who works as a curator and has also published a literary catalog,” Mahvish said.

In a Time of Witness” was released by The Stanley Museum of Art in September 2023. The publication highlights the museum’s celebrated collection by pairing the stunning imagery from the museum’s collection with original literary responses to showcase The Stanley Museum’s innovative vision for art and its interpretation. 

The catalog includes pieces from the museum, matched with a piece of writing that was inspired by the piece, also referred to as ekphrastic writing. Visual art can be an evocative tool for writers, and The Stanley is encouraging this kind of conversation between the visual and the written.

She continued to tell us that the Stanley’s integration of visual and literary art is part of the museum’s goal of expanding its artistic horizons. 

stanley museum writing workshop
Couples can engage with art, literature, and each other at a Generative Workshop.

“We want to have different people with different artistic capacities coming in and contributing to the museum,” Mahvish said. “We’re taking the power away from the standard curator who gets to define what art is and isn’t.”

Write at The Stanley: A Generative Workshop is held monthly at the Stanley and makes for an intimate and creative date. The workshops extend the museum’s mission to expand the definition of art to the people in the Iowa City area. Each session is led by a different talented writer from the Iowa City area who offers a new prompt and new approach to ekphrastic writing.

Creation is a bonding experience, and couples can get so much out of a date to the generative workshop at the Stanley.

“As a couple, it’s great to sit and just bounce ideas off each other during workshops,” Mahvish said. “We want people to just walk in, and get creative.”

The Stanley Museum: Expressing Iowa

The Stanley Museum of Art came to be after the University of Iowa embarked on a big expansion during the Great Depression. The expansion served to make arts teaching a core part of the university’s identity, an identity which persists to this day. 

Beyond the exhibitions and programming at The Stanley, couples can enjoy the museum’s permanent collections at any time during regular museum hours. Couples can spend quiet and reflective time with each other in the galleries while swapping ideas and reactions to the art that surrounds them.

The Stanley Museum of Art is home to collections of modern art, contemporary art, ceramics, drawings, photography, and prints. The museum also has collections of African art, Oceanic art, Asian art, and Indigenous art of the Americas.

drawn over stanley museum exhibition
The Stanley Museum of Art offers daters compelling collections and exhibitions.

The collection of modern art is one of The Stanley’s core strengths. The museum began acquiring modern art in the early 1930s, before the museum had a brick-and-mortar location, with key acquisitions including works by Jackson Pollack and Joan Miró. 

The Stanley Museum’s collection of contemporary art includes pieces from the likes of Fairfield Porter, Lucas Samaras, and Kazys Varnelis. 

Mahvish mentioned some spaces in and around the museum that would be great for a date. “Gibson Park is a beautiful park right outside the museum with sculpture installations and plenty of room for picnicking,” Mahvish said. “We also have some beautiful terraces up on the third floor, where couples can just sit and enjoy the view.”

No matter what collection, exhibition, or workshop couples decide to experience at The Stanley Museum of Art, couples have the opportunity to have a close encounter with art in all its many forms.