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University of Iowa News Release

May 5, 2004

UI Libraries Receive Grant To Restore Historic Art Thesis On Videotape

In 1969, University of Iowa graduate student Michael Eilenfeldt wanted to do something different for his master's thesis. The MFA candidate, enrolled in the School of Art, arranged a series of street art performances, or "happenings," as they were known at the time, and recorded each onto videotape.

Though performance art was increasingly common in Iowa City in the 1960's, it was rarely documented in the manner of Eilenfeldt's thesis, "Environmental Works." From Nov. 26, 1969, until April 29, 1970, Eilenfeldt recorded a weather balloon being rolled down Market Street into the Iowa River, a taxi parade in downtown Iowa City and a lunch meeting of truck drivers at a shopping center.

"I value an approach to art best articulated by John Cage: to imitate nature in her manner of operation," Eilenfeldt wrote in his thesis abstract. "Art is literally living out one's fantasies -- letting one's thoughts grow in space and time, now, on earth."

Unfortunately, no one has been able to see Eilenfeldt's thesis in years because it was recorded on a format of videotape that is no longer widely used. Although the tape has been stored in the UI Libraries' Department of Special Collections, the type of equipment required to play back the tape is no longer available, replaced long ago by VCRs and DVD players.

That will change soon. The National Television and Video Preservation Foundation has awarded a grant to the University Archives in the Department of Special Collections to restore and produce reference copies of Eilenfeldt's thesis. The grant is among the first to be awarded by the foundation, which was created following a 1997 recommendation by the Librarian of Congress.

"While we had many applications to preserve the work of video artists, [the University of Iowa's] was the only material that was a master's thesis from a university archive," according to the April 4 grant notification letter. "The panel felt that ['Environmental Works'] is just the kind of video that the foundation was established to help preserve."

The grant will provide for the cleaning and restoration of the original videotape, as well as its digitization. "New copies of the tape will be produced in DVD and VHS formats to allow access," said David McCartney, university archivist, who co-authored the grant application with Nancy E. Kraft, head of preservation at the UI Libraries. "Work is expected to be completed by the end of this year," McCartney said.

Eilenfeldt's thesis is believed to be the first at Iowa to utilize videotape. It is also the only video title in the archives' thesis holdings not considered "readable" by playback equipment. The grant, for about $400 in services, will once again enable researchers to experience a unique, historical aspect of Iowa City's art scene.

"The NTVPF grant also continues a tradition of support of the creative arts at Iowa," McCartney said. The University of Iowa was the first public university in the United States to accept creative works as master's theses in 1924 and the first to award the Master of Fine Arts degree in 1940.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010,