May 19 2015 06:22 PM

After nearly 50 years, faculty and staff fear next two shows will be the last for a while

UCSD’s University Art Gallery
Photo by Sarah Frontiera

Merete Kjaer received her notice on April 15. The assistant director at the UC San Diego University Art Gallery is being let go, because, as she tells it, the visual arts faculty and the new dean of Arts and Humanities couldn't agree on a way to keep funding for the gallery. This means when UCSD opens for the 2015-2016 school year, no budget funds will be allocated to the gallery, and according to Kjaer and other faculty members, there will be no arts exhibitions in the gallery at least for the foreseeable future. 

The next school year would mark the 50th anniversary of the gallery.

"It's a really big and sad decision, and not only from a personal standpoint," says Kjaer, who has performed all management roles for the gallery since 2011. "What they're doing is just wrong for a university of this size and prominence."

The decision didn't come as a complete surprise. Throughout the 2014-2015 school year, Kjaer and the UCSD Visual Arts faculty had been seeking solutions to keep funding. They had multiple meetings and made budget proposals to Dean of Arts and Humanities Cristina Della Coletta, who was appointed in August of last year. 

"Right away, she was questioning the validity or the merit of the programming we were doing," says Kjaer. Along with visual arts professor Jordan Crandall, Kjaer started to put together proposals and budgets for Della Coletta's consideration. "They weren't satisfied with what we were producing, so they asked for a committee to be formed of faculty members to oversee the process."

This committee was made up of various faculty members and an assistant dean. Kjaer was not on the committee, but Crandall was and confirmed they've been trying to reach a solution all year. He's hopeful that the dean will want to continue to try to find a compromise. 

"I think that she'll likely want to continue with it being a gallery," Crandall says. "She's just weighing options at this point, but yes, funding has been tabled until we pick up with talks again in the fall."

Others, like professor Rubén Ortiz-Torres, aren't as hopeful. 

"She's closing the gallery. There's no funding," says Ortiz-Torres. "The dean expects us to come up with the funding for the gallery, but if I have to get the funding for a space, why would I fund UCSD? I would make the Ruben Ortiz Gallery. So I mean, the university has to support this. It's not the responsibility of the faculty or students to fund a gallery."

Kjaer, who is the gallery's only full-time employee, says there are also part-time installers and student employees who would be let go. This week's Undergraduate Exhibition and June's MFA Exhibition are the last planned shows before school breaks for summer. 

Della Coletta says she does think a solution can still be found. 

"I think a democratic process, and full faculty involvement of the kind we like to see in action at UC San Diego, is often time-consuming, always complex, and often messy," she says. "But this is the foundation of collaborative action and I am always optimistic and confident that eventually a solution will be reached."

Della Coletta is unsure if there will be exhibitions in the gallery next year. "The planning process will likely take longer and much will depend on the power of the vision that is put forward," she says.

Email or follow Seth on Twitter at @combsseth.


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