September 19, 2019
Markus Haala, a visiting artist at the Communication Research Institute (CRI) on the campus of William Penn University, says he never expected to end up in central Iowa, but is glad the opportunity came his way. “I was born in the Ruhr Valley and grew up in this great industrial region of Europe where nature and machinery often sits side-by-side, which is really different from Iowa, however I was ready for Iowa because of my undergraduate college, the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The countryside in Iowa around Oskaloosa looks a lot like the countryside in the Netherlands, filled with green field and blue skies.”
“Why come to Iowa?” We asked Markus as he walked outside of his southeast Oskaloosa home.
“A lot of people have asked me that, and the answer is easy. William Penn University is one of the best creative education colleges in the country, and Iowa is a great place to make art.”
“I like to point out the advantages that Digital Communication offers students over a traditional multi-media journalism degree at a big state university. First, the whole university here is geared to push students to be the best artists they can be. I have better equipment in my labs than students at the New England colleges I used to teach at, and I can allow students to use it from their first semester here. For me as an artist that means I am not alone creating art in a cornfield like some people may think. Instead I have dozens of undergraduates who have the opportunity to get exposed to advanced technology and the chance to work closely with me developing their artistic senses.”
To find out more we talked with the Director of the Communication Research Institute, Steve Jackson. “Markus is right on two fronts. First, many colleges have the same equipment we have, from laser etchers, to drones, to 3D printers, but Freshman have to pay a tax in a dozen pre-requisites before they will ever put their hands on the good stuff.
Our students are our creative colleagues from day one, with their own desk space, a shared computer, 24/7 access to the labs, and enough practicum classes that during four years’ time they will have lots of chances to work closely with visiting artists and faculty.
The second is that Iowa is less expensive and more efficient than other places in the country. Donate ten thousand dollars to an east coast college and not as much as you might think gets into the hands of students, if they will even allow you to donate to labs. Donors who support us get to see their money getting exactly where they think it is going.”
We caught up with Markus exploring an old stone building on the edge of William Penn University campus, where he agreed that Iowa was a great place to build an artistic career. “Groceries cost half as much as Boston, rent is a third and your landlord is usually a friendly person who stops by and chats with you on weekends. And you are right that projects are more efficient here.
When asked how he plans to take advantage of his visiting artist position at the Communication Research Institute and William Penn University, Markus replied, “Working with students is the greatest opportunity a visiting artist has, and digital communication allows visiting artists a chance to work on a wide range of projects.
Finally, at WPU we are proposing a new visual communication major, and learning to use lasers, robotics, and 3D printers in new ways. Plus we have plans for another visiting artist and other professionals whose skills will expand the scope of the institute.