Austin is abuzz this week after Elizabeth Dunbar, the Associate Director and Curator of Arthouse, saw her position eliminated in a new round of budget cuts. The prominent contemporary art center moved into an expensive new building in 2010, and has played host to many well-known contemporary artists, Javier Tellez, Jack Strange, and Cyprien Gaillard amongst them. According to Texas-based website Glasstire, future programming will be determined by guest curators and traveling exhibitions.
The decision to axe Dunbar’s position comes after she wrote a letter to the board expressing her concern that Arthouse leadership had mishandled exhibits by Michelle Handelman and Graham Hudson. During South By Southwest Arthouse rented its galleries to Warner Music Group and allowed them to modify Hudson’s exhibit without the consent of the artist. Earlier that month, Handleman’s video was inexplicably shut off during certain periods of the day, also without the artist’s consent. When asked, Arthouse Executive Director Sue Graze claimed was not suited for the teens coming through the museum. The blog Austin Arts: Seeing Things reports that according to The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 artists have the right to prevent modification to their art work. Dunbar’s letter claimed the recent decisions made by Arthouse jeopardized the institution's credibility and possibly violated their legal contracts with the artists.
In protest to these recent events, the widely exhibited San Antonio-based artist Dario Robleto resigned from the board, longtime Arthouse staffer Jenn Gardner quit, and many artists are now pulling their work from the ‘5 x 7’ fundraiser. There is also a Facebook group generating a fair bit of discussion titled Artists FOR Arthouse. A few relevant comments:
This whole mess reminds me of a thought that occurred to me often while working inside arts institutions: Donors give for facilities, exhibitions, productions, education, programs, trips, and special events – but why not for the overworked, underpaid staff that make it all go? An allocation of an endowment or a corporate sponsorship to ensure positions are funded fairly and competitively would change the game for arts professionals – and the missions they serve.
In response to the comment about the 5×7 show benefitting education programs [no longer online]. But no one is cutting education programs or directors. I cannot remember my sources on this (anyone?) but recently education and outreach has become a larger part of the budget of arts institutions such as this over exhibitions. As in more money is spent for education about the exhibitions than on the exhibitions. Probably because it is easier to get grants and such for education programs. While I teach through these programs, I can’t help but wonder what the cost will be in this shift in priorities? Why even get youth excited about becoming arts professionals if there is nothing for them when they get into the real world? What are we teaching them if it is all art classes and no art?
No commenters have described Arthouse Executive Director Sue Graze as responsible for the institution’s recent problems.