N.H. enrollment woes expose academic museums’ vulnerabilities

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

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

“Educational artwork museums have develop into 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 won’t 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 said declining enrollment— the principle campus had 13,860 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 workers members.

Because the AAMG outlined in its letter to Dean, the UNH Museum of Art’s worth prolonged past enhancing the curriculum, providing internships and increasing college students’ cultural consciousness. It additionally supplied a public house that linked the campus with the encircling group of Durham by way of instructional programming partnerships for Ok-12 college students, senior residents and medical facilities along with engaging “guests who could also be new to the college and who could develop into 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 Determination

Kristina Durocher, who directed UNH’s artwork museum from 2011 till its closure, mentioned she’d been involved concerning the oversight of the museum for years. The museum was below the purview of the Faculty of Liberal Arts at UNH, which meant that if a directive for funds cuts got here, the dean of the school must weigh the prices of operating the museum together with retaining 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 reducing roughly $1.5 million from the school’s “already very lean” funds.

She watched as other universities—especially West Virginia University—slashed their liberal arts applications and hoped the same 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 remove the museum was tough and never reflective of her notion of its worth. “If you’re confronted with a constrained funds atmosphere, 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 schools and universities home greater than 1,600 museums throughout america.

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 inventive observations of a challenge undertaken by the UNH Heart for Acoustics Analysis and Schooling.

In 2019, Dillon authorized the museum’s strategic plan, which included a aim to deliver the museum below the provost’s workplace as a substitute of the Faculty of Liberals Arts, which is in keeping with the AAMG’s best 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 school,” mentioned Durocher, who can be president of AAMG however was not concerned within the board’s letter to the UNH president on Feb. 5. “We actually served your entire instructing mission of the college.”

However the plan to maneuver authority over the museum to the college provost grew to become secondary to updating the bodily house, which first opened as an artwork gallery within the 1960s earlier than turning into a full-fledged museum in 2010. It homes an in depth assortment of work, pictures and prints from artists equivalent to Andy Warhol, Hyman Bloom and Max Ernst and has hosted quite a few exhibitions that includes work from native, regional and nationally recognized artists.

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

‘Actually Stunned’

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

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

“We have been actually stunned,” Durocher mentioned. “The dean put collectively suggestions that needed to be authorized by the folks reviewing the funds. That’s to not say the identical final result couldn’t have occurred” if it have been below the provost.

In response to Durocher, roughly 85 % of the museum’s estimated $600,000 annual working funds 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, throughout the strategic planning course of years in the past, concerning the potential threats these deficits posed to the museum.

“Having monetary sustainability be a part of that plan would have helped. It might have given me and my board a transparent directive and a few targets that we might 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 wish to lose.

“It’s a spot that meets one of many college’s targets about being welcoming to numerous teams of individuals,” she mentioned, recalling that lots of the reveals have centered 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 are able to get sufficient help to make this a win-win state of affairs so the museum doesn’t have to finish.”

Hoffman believes the museum has the donor base to lift 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 season and New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu not looking for re-election in 2024, she’s hopeful “issues might change sooner or later if we might simply create a bridge to the longer term.”

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 chance, however she mentioned no choices 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 problem,” she mentioned. “Proper now, we’re simply attempting to maintain the museum from closing without end.”

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

“When the dean is charged with attempting to make up a big monetary hole, issues just like the museum are at all times going to be extra weak,” 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 ample definition of how a museum would perform for us … How one defines the wants and wishes for the sorts of programming inside these areas can influence an establishment’s potential to commit.”

In contrast to previous high-profile examples of universities—equivalent to Brandeis University and Valparaiso University—making an attempt to promote items from their collections, UNH has no plans to promote its artwork. Cariens mentioned if the museum have been to reopen, that course of must be guided by dialogue about the way it serves UNH’s broader mission and “might solely be sustainable if it falls below the provost and never the school.”

For now, the tentative plan is for the museum house to remain open as a smaller gallery to exhibit scholar initiatives 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 in command of the gathering isn’t advisable 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 problems of placing a tutorial museum below the oversight of a dean as a substitute of a provost.

“The expertise of the AAMG board and different members of our discipline 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, by way of fundraising and reallocations, to keep up the museum,” she wrote within the letter.

Different Museums Underneath Deans

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

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

Katie Lee-Koven, government 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 entire campus, and we serve our group as nicely.” Her museum then got here below the oversight of the provost earlier than transferring below the president’s workplace. She mentioned each of these modifications made her really feel safer concerning the museum’s future in comparison with when it was below the humanities school.

“It’s not a tutorial museum’s job to show directors concerning 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 seek out ourselves in a task of recurrently reminding and educating our dad or mum 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 doubtlessly extra weak,” she mentioned.

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