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Gund Gallery gets an endowment

By Caleb Bissinger

When the Gund Gallerys board of directors meets in April, its members will ask themselves: Is the Gallery enriching the student experience? And, if the answer is yes, how much will it cost to keep it up?

The board formed last spring when the Gallery split from the College and became its own nonprofit corporation. Its all sort of new to us, David Horvitz 74, Kenyon trustee and chairman of the Gallerys board, said. We knew we had to integrate it with the academic life at Kenyon, and didnt know exactly what that meant. And what Ive seen is a progression, a very positive progression, from the very beginning to today.

Since opening its glass doors in the fall of 2011, the Gund Gallery has staged four major exhibitions. The Columbus Dispatch, reviewing the Gallerys inaugural show, called the 6,200-square-footgallery a vast improvement over the Olin Art Gallery, an awkward space tucked in the bowels of the campus library.

Of course, that improvement was not cheap. The new building, which also houses the art history department, cost $17.5 million nearly two-thirds of which Graham Gund 63, the buildings architect and namesake, contributed.

As for day-to-day operations, The College funds the Gallery, Horvitz said. This is a big hit for the College. I dont think its a secret; its over $500,000 that theyre paying for the salaries and everything else, and that money is not endowed. Like the rest of College expenses, [it is] 70-percent tuition dependent. You guys are paying for it.

In order to do that, its got to make the quality of your education better, Horvitz said. My instinct tells me its not a close call: it is that much better. The experience of the students in four years because of Gund Gallery, because of all the programming at Gund Gallery, are going to be enriched.

The Gallery employs nearly 30 students. It holds artist talks and film screenings linked to current exhibitions. This week, as part of a continuing collaboration with the Kenyon Review, the Gallery will host a symposium on cultural ownership featuring speakers from Colgate University and Christies Auction House and moderated by a multi-disciplinary panel of Kenyon professors. On the lighter side of things, the Gund hosts a faculty happy hour and PB&J Wednesdays, a buffet that has drawn over 100 students when the special ingredient was bacon.

But in order to pay for the highest level of programming that the College would ever want, Horvitz said, the Gallery will need increased financial independence. What wed like to do is to build an endowment so that, one, you dont have to fight for it every year, and, two, eventually, and this may just be me, Id like the Colleges contribution to go down.

To this end, the board has raised $61,000 and another $45,000 is pledged to be paid by June. Horvitz guessed that within five years the Gallery could build a $10-million endowment, which translates to a $450,000-a-year payout.

The Gallerys current budget, in Horvitzs words, is a shoestring of what we need. While endowed money would not allow the Gallery to hire full-time employees that is exclusively the Colleges domain it could allow them to contract specialists. Lets say we want to do a Latin American art exhibition, a genre beyond Gallery Director Natalie Marshs expertise. We might hire a curator and pay them $10,000, or something, to curate that whole exhibition. We cant do that out of the $500,000 that Kenyons giving us, but out of the money that were going to raise, were going to be able to do that.

To build that sort of endowment, Horvitz said the Gallery would court donors who have little affiliation with Kenyon. What were trying to find are donors that are not really interested in College financial aid or in student housing or maybe not even in Kenyon College, Horvitz said. Were trying to find new donors or donors that wouldnt otherwise be giving. Were really trying hard not to compete with the Kenyon Fund or the Parents Fund.

The pitch to those donors hinges on the ways the Gallery advances the Colleges curriculum. The Gallery is in the midst of hiring a new Curator of Academic Programs, who will be tasked with forging academic links between the Gallery and the College.

On occasion, though, the relationship between the Gallery and Kenyons faculty has been awkward. Gallery Director Natalie Marsh told the Collegian last April that the Gallerys main objective was to bring in work from outside, and in so doing curate exhibitions that would serve many different departments and curricula at the same time. In keeping with that, the Gallery planned to incorporate faculty art into relevant exhibitions rather than host faculty-only shows, a staple in the Olin Gallery.

Last spring, work by Professors of Art Greg Spaid and Barry Gunderson appeared alongside pieces by Andrew Wyeth and Walker Evans. Right now, Associate Professor of Art Read Baldwins landscapes of the U.S. Southwest are hanging with the work of Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar and Israeli-born Ori Gersht. But some art professors still felt a dedicated faculty exhibit was necessary to the Gallerys mission, and the Gallery agreed to host a biennial faculty show.

Before the board meets in April, the members are also putting together a collections committee and finalizing a collections policy. We built this thing with the goal to have a world-class permanent collection of post-war and contemporary art. We have a couple of pieces. We have some donors that have collections Id love to get, Horvitz said.

But donors are nervous. In times of financial duress, some colleges and universities have proposed auctioning their art collections for an easy dose of revenue. In 2009, Brandeis University announced a plan to shutter its museum and sell off its contents; following a two-year legal battle, the University reneged.

According to Horvitz, Weve talked to donors and said, Were not going to do that. And they say, We know you arent, but 20 years from now were not going to be talking to you.

Breaking away from the College and establishing a collection policy are steps toward quelling those concerns. Getting the Gallery fully accredited as a lending museum will be another.

The Gallery grows up, and the board remains optimistic. Natalies doing a terrific job, Horvitz said. Shes a racehorse; shes a thoroughbred. She works 24 hours a day, more so than me. But Im a volunteer.

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