Wednesday, February 28, 2024

N.H. enrollment woes expose tutorial museums’ vulnerabilities

When the College of New Hampshire closed its on-campus artwork museum final month amid a $14 million price range shortfall, the choice drew predictable criticism from college students, alumni and donors.

However the closure additionally caught the eye of educational museum professionals who consider museums are essential to advancing the mission of upper training establishments, particularly research-focused public flagships corresponding to UNH.

“Educational artwork museums have grow to be more and more adept at strengthening curricula throughout campus, from artwork and artwork historical past to languages and literature, arithmetic and sciences, enterprise, and extra,” the board of the Affiliation of Educational Museums & Galleries (AAMG) wrote in a letter final week to James Dean Jr., president of UNH, urging him to rethink the closure.

“Alas, closing a museum is not going to save a college, as nice universities have nice museums.”

Students standing in art museum
College students drawing in Fahamu Pecou’s “Do or Die: Have an effect on, Ritual and Resistance,” which the UNH Museum of Artwork exhibited in 2018.

Dean has mentioned declining enrollment— the principle campus had 13,860 college students in 2022, down from 15,479 in 2017—and inflated working prices led to the multimillion-dollar deficit that resulted in eliminating 75 complete jobs on the college, which included the artwork museum’s director and the three different employees members.

Because the AAMG outlined in its letter to Dean, the UNH Museum of Artwork’s worth prolonged past enhancing the curriculum, providing internships and increasing college students’ cultural consciousness. It additionally supplied a public area that related the campus with the encircling group of Durham via academic programming partnerships for Okay-12 college students, senior residents and medical facilities along with engaging “guests who could also be new to the college and who might grow to be museum and college donors.”

The museum’s abrupt closure, nonetheless, demonstrates the potential vulnerability of educational museums dotting a nationwide greater training panorama marked by enrollment declines which might be anticipated to worsen in coming years.

The Dean’s Choice

Kristina Durocher, who directed UNH’s artwork museum from 2011 till its closure, mentioned she’d been involved in regards to the oversight of the museum for years. The museum was underneath the purview of the Faculty of Liberal Arts at UNH, which meant that if a directive for price range cuts got here, the dean of the school must weigh the prices of operating the museum together with protecting tutorial applications afloat.

That’s what the choice to shut finally got here right down to for Michele Dillon, dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts, who was tasked with chopping roughly $1.5 million from the school’s “already very lean” price range.

She watched as different universities—particularly West Virginia College—slashed their liberal arts applications and hoped an analogous choice may not befall New Hampshire’s public flagship R-1 establishment.

“My dedication was to bolster all of our tutorial applications. That didn’t go away a lot else to have a look at,” Dillon mentioned, including that her choice to get rid of the museum was tough and never reflective of her notion of its worth. “Once you’re confronted with a constrained price range setting, these are the form of selections that tutorial leaders more and more and sadly need to make.”

However the overwhelming majority of R-1 establishments have museums, and faculties and universities home greater than 1,600 museums throughout the US.

Durocher mentioned the museum she ran additionally furthered UNH’s mission as a research-intensive establishment by making “the analysis of the college seen to the general public.” One such instance was the 2021 exhibition “Wendy Klemperer: Artist at Sea,” which displayed creative observations of a undertaking undertaken by the UNH Heart for Acoustics Analysis and Schooling.

In 2019, Dillon authorised the museum’s strategic plan, which included a purpose to carry the museum underneath the provost’s workplace as a substitute of the Faculty of Liberals Arts, which is in keeping with the AAMG’s greatest practices.

“She was supportive as a result of she acknowledged the Museum of Artwork served extra than simply the college and college students within the faculty,” mentioned Durocher, who can also be president of AAMG however was not concerned within the board’s letter to the UNH president on Feb. 5. “We actually served your complete instructing mission of the college.”

However the plan to maneuver authority over the museum to the college provost turned secondary to updating the bodily area, which first opened as an artwork gallery within the Nineteen Sixties earlier than turning into a full-fledged museum in 2010. It homes an in depth assortment of work, images and prints from artists corresponding to Andy Warhol, Hyman Bloom and Max Ernst and has hosted quite a few exhibitions that includes work from native, regional and nationally identified artists.

View of UNH Museum of Art
The museum hosted the exhibition “Messengers: Artists as Witnesses” in 2019.

‘Actually Shocked’

Whereas Durocher was conscious of UNH’s dim price range image, she was nonetheless planning for the museum proper up till it closed.

Final summer time, the museum solidified plans to put in a brand new HVAC system. That might have been one of many closing steps of making ready it to use for accreditation, which may elevate status and broaden entry to exterior funding sources. However the undertaking was postponed days earlier than building was slated to start in early December. Six weeks later, the museum closed fully.

“We had been actually shocked,” Durocher mentioned. “The dean put collectively suggestions that needed to be authorised by the folks reviewing the price range. That’s to not say the identical final result couldn’t have occurred” if it had been underneath the provost.

In response to Durocher, roughly 85 % of the museum’s estimated $600,000 annual working price range got here from the college, and the rest got here from a mixture of restricted endowed funds, earned earnings and donations.

Durocher mentioned she understands the college’s powerful monetary predicament led to the museum’s closure, however nonetheless she would have appreciated extra transparency from directors, in the course of the strategic planning course of years in the past, in regards to the potential threats these deficits posed to the museum.

“Having monetary sustainability be a part of that plan would have helped. It could have given me and my board a transparent directive and a few goals that we may have met,” she mentioned. “I’ve heard from alumni and donors … They’re very indignant and shocked about this choice. They’re appalled that the college would shut its museum.”

‘Museums Are Ceaselessly’?

Marilyn Hoffman, a donor and member of the UNH museum’s board of advisers, mentioned she supported it as a result of it’s an asset to the campus and the group that she doesn’t need to lose.

“It’s a spot that meets one of many college’s objectives about being welcoming to various teams of individuals,” she mentioned, recalling that most of the reveals have targeted on themes of social justice. “Museums are without end. Collections are held in belief for future generations. Closing it’s not one thing that ought to have occurred. We really feel they made a mistake and that we will get sufficient help to make this a win-win scenario so the museum doesn’t have to finish.”

Hoffman believes the museum has the donor base to boost sufficient non-public funds to remain open for an additional yr and determine a sustainable, long-term plan within the meantime. And with President Dean set to retire this summer time and New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu not searching for re-election in 2024, she’s hopeful “issues may change sooner or later if we may simply create a bridge to the long run.”

White wall with white objects affixed to it
A element from “Amy Stacy Curtis: Switch,” which the museum exhibited in 2020.

She and different supporters of the museum met with the provost Friday to debate that risk, however she mentioned no selections have but been made.

Asking the provost to imagine oversight of the museum isn’t a part of Hoffman’s quick plans. “That’s a long-range subject,” she mentioned. “Proper now, we’re simply making an attempt to maintain the museum from closing without end.”

Benjamin Cariens, chair of the college’s artwork and artwork historical past division, wasn’t shocked by the announcement of the closure and mentioned he’d lengthy had considerations in regards to the Faculty of Liberal Arts overseeing the museum as a substitute of the provost.

“When the dean is charged with making an attempt to make up a big monetary hole, issues just like the museum are all the time going to be extra susceptible,” he mentioned. “It began to really feel like there was a school dedication to the humanities, however maybe not a college dedication.

“We wanted to have a extra satisfactory definition of how a museum would operate for us … How one defines the wants and needs for the sorts of programming inside these areas can impression an establishment’s skill to commit.”

Not like previous high-profile examples of universities—corresponding to Brandeis College and Valparaiso College—trying to promote items from their collections, UNH has no plans to promote its artwork. Cariens mentioned if the museum had been to reopen, that course of must be guided by dialogue about the way it serves UNH’s broader mission and “may solely be sustainable if it falls underneath the provost and never the school.”

For now, the tentative plan is for the museum area to remain open as a smaller gallery to exhibit pupil tasks and for the artwork and artwork historical past division to tackle the accountability of sustaining the gathering till a long-term collections-management plan is established.

Jill Hartz, previous president of AAMG and former director of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Artwork on the College of Oregon, mentioned placing school answerable for the gathering isn’t really helpful and places the paintings in jeopardy.

“They’re not skilled to be gallery and museum folks,” she mentioned.

Hartz, who authored the AAMG’s letter to President Dean, additionally outlined the dangers and issues of placing an educational museum underneath the oversight of a dean as a substitute of a provost.

“The expertise of the AAMG board and different members of our area is that when a museum’s distinctive significance is acknowledged on the highest ranges each throughout the academy and the bigger group, efforts are made, via fundraising and reallocations, to take care of the museum,” she wrote within the letter.

Different Museums Beneath Deans

The UNH Museum of Artwork isn’t the one tutorial museum that’s operated underneath an ill-advised construction.

As of 2022, 32 % of educational museum administrators reported to an educational division dean, 29 % reported to the provost, 11 % reported to a division chair and seven % reported to the president, in line with an AAMG survey of almost 200 tutorial museums.

Katie Lee-Koven, govt director and chief curator of the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Artwork at Utah State College, mentioned when she first took the helm on the museum a decade in the past, it reported to the school of the humanities. However she made the case to school directors that the museum serves “school and college students throughout your complete campus, and we serve our group as properly.” Her museum then got here underneath the oversight of the provost earlier than transferring underneath the president’s workplace. She mentioned each of these modifications made her really feel safer in regards to the museum’s future in comparison with when it was underneath the humanities faculty.

“It’s not an educational museum’s job to show directors in regards to the worth of one thing that’s a part of their campus,” Lee-Koven mentioned. “And but, it’s not unusual for us as museum administrators to search out ourselves in a job of usually reminding and educating our mum or dad establishments about what we do, how we do it and the way we’re of worth to them.”

What’s extra, most accreditors of schools and universities don’t assess how tutorial museums help an establishment’s mission, which “makes us probably extra susceptible,” she mentioned.

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