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Separate Board to Oversee Gund Gallery

Separate Board to Oversee Gund Gallery

By Erin Mershon and August Steigmeyer

The Board of Trustees voted last weekend to separate the Graham Gund Gallery from the College in a move that will give the Gallery its own Board of Trustees, much like The Kenyon Review and the Philander Chase Corporation.

The move has been in the works for a while, but studio art and art history faculty members who helped plan the Gallery were not notified. The lack of communication speaks to other tensions the Gallery has had to work through with faculty over the course of its first year at Kenyon.

Once paperwork is filed and approved by the Internal Revenue Service, the Gallery will gain 501(c)(3) status as a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation, making donations to the Gallery tax-deductible. The Gallery staff will still be employees of the College, and many of the operating costs of the Gallery will come from Kenyons general budget.

[The new legal status] sets us up to be more responsible in a number of ways, Gund Gallery Director Natalie Marsh said. As we go into a collecting mode, [we will have] a separate, very specialized Board over the Gallery that would answer in a kind of liaison-ship to the Board of Trustees for the College.

Those serving on the Gallerys Board will be more familiar with the legal, ethical and financial issues related to developing an art collection, she said.

President S. Georgia Nugent, who has worked with Marsh and Provost Nayef Samhat to oversee the proposal, was quick to point out that the move does not disconnect the Gallery from the College.

I think theres a real misperception that somehow this spins off the Gallery as a separate entity. It does not, she said. This particular legal form establishes a corporation, but the corporation, in legal terms, has a sole member and the sole member is the College.

The move aims primarily to establish a separate Board of Trustees with more interest in art and gallery management, Nugent said.

Ultimately, the Gallery will still be governed by the Colleges Board of Trustees.

A gallery having a semi-independent board, which is represented on the larger Kenyon board, is not an unusual thing, Samhat said.

Moves like this are common for museums similarly connected to colleges, according to Marsh. The Wexner Center for the Arts at the Ohio State University is also set up as a separate 501(c)(3). Oberlin Colleges famous Allen Memorial Art Museum, however, is not; its staff directly answers to Oberlins Board of Trustees.

Becoming a 501(c)(3) organization will also better allow the Gallery to work toward establishing its own separate endowment, a long-term goal of Marshs. Though the Gallery could set up a separate endowment without this new legal status, the distinction will ensure donors do not take the Colleges overall budget into account when considering whether to donate to the Gallery itself.

When youre part of a much bigger non-profit [like the College], its harder to go out and be effective when asking for financial support from foundations and other agencies, because you look like you have a bigger budget than you do, Marsh said. If youre a separate non-profit, your finances have to be separate.

The Gallerys new legal status may complicate the conversation about the deassession, or selling off, of College-owned artwork. Artwork currently housed in Greenslade Special Collections, for example, is not the Gallerys property, so it cannot display or maintain it, according to Professor of Art History Eugene Dwyer, who chairs the department and worked closely with the administration and trustees to plan the Gallery.

The Gallery, however, has plans to acquire pieces in the Colleges collection that are considered fine art, though determining which pieces fall into that category will be difficult, according to Marsh. The move will ensure the pieces are conserved, but it may also limit the Colleges ability to display work around campus.

Dwyer, for one, has some concerns about transfer of ownership [of art] and what that would imply, he said.

Its still all a part of the College, so its still all accessible to everybody, ultimately, Marsh said.

The Gallerys new Board of Trustees will have control over the purchase and sale of all art in the Gallerys collection. Such decisions have been controversial recently as colleges across the country have looked at their art collections as assets that could be sold to reconcile budget deficits. Kenyons Art Acquisitions Committee dealt with the subject a few years ago, when a donated painting was sent for appraisal. Some worried the funds raised from the piece would be used to fund the new Gallery, an unethical practice according to standards set by the American Association of Museums. In the end, the piece was not sold.

I worry about the possibility of bankruptcy on either end, either the Gallery or the College, and having to pledge the rest of the works of art in the collection, Dwyer said.

Deassession, however, can also be healthy for museums, especially if the sale of artwork can be used to purchase new, more relevant art for a museums collection.

Its a shame to have something that takes up a lot of space, but that nobody uses, Marsh said. [But at Kenyon,] theres nothing that we really need to get rid of or should get rid of.

The new Board will help handle such controversial issues, Marsh said.

This special Board for the Gallery is made up of people who have already served on other boards at museums around the country, so they understand the sticky legal and ethical issues related to collecting, but also the financial side of collecting so that our operations can provide the highest quality art and exhibitions, she said.

Both Samhat and Marsh said the switch was always an eventual goal for the Gallery, but as recently as two weeks ago, few of the faculty members involved in planning the Gallery knew the move was in the works.

We didnt hear any discussion, during the planning stages, that the Gallery would become a separate entity, Dwyer said. I think I would have been aware of it, because I certainly understand how The Kenyon Review is set up: if someone had spoken of the Gallery as an analogous entity to The Kenyon Review, I think I would have noted that.

Members of the studio art department were also unaware of the move until the Collegian informed them of the change in tax status, according to Department Chair Marcella Hackbardt, who worked with the College to plan the Gallery over the past four or five years.

The faculty were not notified of the transition because its really an administrative change nothing else changes, Samhat said. There are benefits to donors through this kind of arrangement, oversight in terms of a constituted board [but] the budgeting, the management of space, nothing changes. Its more or less an administrative shift rather than a substantive shift in operating the Gallery.

The lack of communication on the topic, however, is indicative of a larger set of communication problems between the Gallery and faculty members that both groups have been working to iron out this year.

As recently as the beginning of March, Marsh and the Gallery were not planning to host exhibitions featuring work by studio art faculty. When the Colleges primary gallery was in Olin Library, such shows were hosted biennially. Faculty shows, like student shows, service only one department of the school running counter to the Gallerys objective of serving many departments.

The Gallery is intended to, by and large, bring in work from outside. Thats its main focus, Marsh said. Most of what academic museums try to do is develop and present exhibitions that can serve many different departments and curricula at the same time.

Instead, Marsh planned to include relevant faculty artwork in larger shows. Professors of Studio Art Read Baldwin, Greg Spaid and Barry Gunderson have work in a current exhibition, Persistence: The Rural in American Art, alongside artists like William Eggleston, Andrew Wyeth and John Frederick Kensett.

Now, however, the Gallery has reversed its position, agreeing to host biennial faculty shows beginning in 2013-2014. Studio art faculty who take sabbaticals can also show their work upon their return.

Throughout the year, the Gallery and studio art faculty have discussed the topic, according to Nugent, who was involved at arms length in the conversations.

Traditionally there have been those kinds of faculty shows here, she said. Not every college does it that way. An alternative would be to include faculty members in a larger show with other thematically related [pieces]. In the end, the faculty prefers to do it the way it has been done, so thats what were going to do.

Concerned that faculty shows would not be held in the new Gallery, members of the studio art faculty contacted Samhat earlier this year.

Samhat worked with Hackbardt and Marsh to devise a plan for scheduling and formatting faculty shows.

We had to talk about it with all the different people involved in the mission of the Gallery, because now it has to serve the whole College, Hackbardt said. So we had to sort of go out and talk about that and see how thats going to segue in with the other programs.

Still, Samhat said there had always been rough plans for an exhibition of faculty work.

I think we were always going to have a show it was just sorting out the logistics and the scheme for how to have a faculty show, Samhat said. I think the Gallery director was aware that the Gallery serves the academic community and the larger community, and part of that is the tradition that we have here at Kenyon having the student show and the faculty shows. We just hadnt formalized it yet.

For Hackbardt, the decision to host faculty shows was important both for the studio art department and the students.

The faculty show enriches the students experience, but its also just a real community event where everyone comes and enjoys the show. Its very interdisciplinary, she said. This is a time when [students] can come out and see our work. The whole point of the Gund Gallery is to not have to only see work on computer screens.

Even as the Gund Gallery has provided new office space for faculty members from the art history department, tensions have grown between the Gallery and the faculty over how to utilize the buildings four classrooms, all of which are under the purview of the registrar and the art history department, not the Gallery staff.

Its not exactly the way we would have planned it, but we are pretty happy with the spaces, Dwyer said. Im delighted with the classrooms.

The art history department requested a curatorial classroom during the planning stage of the Gallery. The classroom serves as a kind of laboratory where art history students can interact more closely with art in the Colleges collection. The room recently housed sculptures for a comparison exercise for a survey of art history course.

The exhibition mimics the public exhibition to provide a more authentic viewing of the material, Dwyer said. Its more hands-on.

The classroom is also a relatively secure, lockable space for housing art. Still, it is not without issues. Though the Gallery employs two dedicated security officers, they cannot legally monitor the art history classrooms because those spaces are not controlled by the Gallery staff. The art history department then must provide its own security, which is not included in its budget. Instead, the department turns to several student organizations to help them supervise the space.

Without more professional security, borrowed artwork cant be shown in the space, Marsh said.

Its easy for these things to just walk away, she said. I wouldnt leave work in that space overnight. I could bring things from collections to, lets say, the basement, temporarily. But Im not going to put original artwork in there.

The art history department and the Gallery also have plans to coordinate art history classes with future shows, according to Dwyer.

If we were advised that there was going to be an Islamic show in three years, then we would very likely do a seminar on Islamic art to coincide with the show in the Gallery, he said.

Despite some disputes between faculty members and Gallery administrators, everyone interviewed said they considered the Gallerys debut year a success. Many touted the recent senior art major show as an impressive herald of excellent shows to come.

Im actually really impressed, Marsh said. Thats a big space to try to fill, and I think the students really stepped up and they hold the space really well.

Hackbardt in particular stressed how impressed she was with the Gallerys work putting on events for students across campus.

The Gallery has thought of a bunch of workshops for students that are really helpful, Hackbardt said. Theyve thought of all these clever things that I just love. Theyve really promoted the student show. Theyve done a great job, she said.

Fundamentally, the Gallery serves the mission of the College, and it highlights the various kinds of work going on at the College, Samhat said. The academic interests of the College will always be a priority and will always be represented.

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