Dunn Report on LUMA closing

Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA)

Mission: The Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) was dedicated to exploring, promoting, and understanding art and artistic expression that illuminates enduring spiritual questions universal to all cultures and societies, and especially those relevant to issues of social equity and justice. LUMA served as a cultural and artistic ambassador representing the university’s mission of promoting education, social justice, and service in the Jesuit tradition through its exhibits and artistic, educational, and cultural programming aimed at a diverse and broadly inclusive audience (IACA 2020 Program Grant Application Narrative: Visual Arts Loyola University Museum of Art [LUMA]).

Collections and Programming:

LUMA maintains two distinct permanent collections that serve its mission.

The Martin D’Arcy Collection, which formed the origins of the museum, is considered one of the finest collections of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque Art in the Midwest. The collection was founded in 1969 by Donald F. Rowe, S.J. who was inspired by a collection of art assembled at Campion Hall at Oxford University by Father Martin D’Arcy for whom he named the collection at Loyola University Chicago. Originally conceived as a place of quiet reflection for the university community, the D’Arcy has developed since 1990s as a collection more integrally engaged in the educational mission and programming of the university. It has provided internships, student opportunities to curate small exhibits, and has been integrated into course work for classes in art history and other disciplines. The collection lends itself to extensive research in a variety of fields that touch upon the religious and secular culture of periods of art it displays. Objects from the D’Arcy Collection are frequently requested for loans by prestigious museums in the US and Europe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, or incorporated into international scholarly research and publications.

LUMA also holds a permanent collection of art from diverse periods, cultures, and media, including representative pieces from LUMA’s temporary exhibits, with an emphasis on Illinois artists. Currently the collection holds art works by over 40 Illinois painters, sculptors, photographers, and printmakers.

LUMA also has mounted unique rotating exhibitions with themes addressing issues of social justice, global awareness, and environmental sustainability that often promote emerging/under-exhibited/minority artists. A recent example were the exhibitions “Everyday Englewood” and “Folded Map” that explored racial issues in our city by Chicago photographer Tonika Lewis Johnson. These exhibitions generated tremendous media attention and positive publicity for both the artist and Loyola University (see attached).

Educational programming related to the themes of Loyola’s mission (incorporating visual art, film, music, dance, lectures, panel discussions, artist talks and tours, drama and poetry readings, and workshops) has addressed both the university and broader Chicago community.

LUMA was fairly successful in securing grants for these endeavors.

History: LUMA opened in 2005 as an initiative by Loyola’s then-President Michael Garanzini, S.J. to enrich the downtown Water Tower Campus with a museum that would serve as an educational, cultural, and artistic asset for the city of Chicago, the university, and the prolific Chicago arts community. Through the efforts of Shirley Madigan, Loyola received a $7 million grant from the State of Illinois to create a cultural presence for Loyola University in the downtown area. At this time the Martin D’Arcy Collection was moved into the new, expanded museum space in Lewis Towers (about 30,000 total square feet, of which approximately 10,000 square feet is exhibition space).

In 2013 LUMA received accreditation—the highest national recognition for a museum—from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). AAM accreditation is the field’s primary vehicle for quality assurance and public accountability. Accreditation was desired by the administration at that time.

At the time of accreditation, the university informally committed funds necessary for the operations of LUMA from rental revenue generated by Lewis Towers retail tenants (specifically the Hershey’s Chocolate store) limited to $1 million annually. The average amount of rental income allocated from FY 2012-FY 2016 was around $854,000. However, once the Hershey’s income was earmarked for LUMA, new charges were levied by the University against LUMA’s budget for maintenance.

Similar to a university library, a university museum helps fulfill its institution’s educational and cultural mission. Like a library, a university museum is not a for-profit business, rather it is supported by endowments, gifts, grants, corporate sponsorships, memberships and its university. However, it appears that Loyola University has not actively engaged in fund raising efforts to help support LUMA. The administration did not replace either of LUMA’s development staff in 2015, and in that year, the then head of Advancement lost a $1 million endowment for the D’Arcy’s curator by botching the answer to the potential donor’s concern about what would happen to the endowment if the university closed the D’Arcy or sold the collection.

When the curator of the Martin D’Arcy left to take another position in January 2016, he was not replaced. When the director of LUMA retired in August 2016, she was not replaced. A museum director plays a key role in fund raising for a museum. The only curator who remained was Natasha Ritsma, curator of education. She struggled to maintain LUMA’s programming and operations with a staff of six, reduced from twelve. Although due to her extraordinary efforts, she was very successful in programming, she was not given any authority in the direction of the museum or other staff members, and thus, LUMA has been without a museum professional to direct it for the last three years.

LUMA’s advisory board was suspended.

By 2017, the university had reduced their commitment to LUMA to $500,000, half of their original commitment of $1 million.

On 9 February 2017, several members of the CAS faculty were invited by Dean Thomas Regan, S.J. to be part of a faculty study group formed at the behest of President Rooney and then Provost Pelissero “to ‘blue sky’ what the future of LUMA might look like.” As faculty members within the College of Arts and Sciences whose teaching and research intersect with the activities of the Loyola University Museum of Art, we readily agreed to participate. The committee met multiple times over the course of the Spring 2017 semester to re-imagine the role that LUMA could play in the College and to offer recommendations for the stabilization and reorganization of the institution as well as initiatives we believed would enable LUMA to reach its potential.

At a subsequent meeting of the Dean’s LUMA committee, on 12 April 2017, Tom Kelly, Senior Vice-President for Administration Services, was invited to address the group. He stated that the College of Arts and Sciences had been asked to consider whether it could provide a home for LUMA, since Dr. Rooney did not think it should report to the President’s office. He shared financial information, noting the reduction of Loyola’s commitment from rental income to $500,000.  He also said LUMA’s hours of operation needed to be analyzed.

As we concluded in our May 2017 white paper to Dean Regan,

The Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) is a vital educational and cultural resource which can play a much-expanded role in a transformative educational experience for Loyola University students. LUMA is a living research institution which serves and educates both the university and public communities through its collections, exhibitions, programs, and teaching initiatives.

Our recommendations took into account the reduced budget of the museum, the fact that the administration wanted LUMA to remain in Lewis Towers, and the administration’s perceived desire to place LUMA under the auspices of the CAS and strengthen student engagement. Although supportive of the placement of LUMA under the administration of CAS, the committee’s report emphasized the primary audience of LUMA as the entire university community and recognized the larger Chicago community as an important audience as well.

Our suggestion that free admission, typical for most other university museums, was instituted in 2017 in order to increase attendance, to further reach underserved groups beyond targeted programming, to make the museum accessible to Chicago area residents from all walks of life, and to attract corporate sponsorship.

But otherwise, nearly two years passed with no discernable action taken to bring LUMA into CAS or to enact any of the rest of the report’s recommendations or to enter into discussions with the committee.

In response to a letter from the LUMA committee in December 2018, inquiring about what was happening with the museum, Tom Kelly responded that a decision would be made soon, but we heard nothing until early April 2019 when the last remaining curator, Natasha Ritsma, resigned. For three years, working with a reduced budget and a very limited staff, she had done an almost miraculous job of organizing exhibitions and programs perfectly attuned to Loyola’s mission.  When Natasha resigned, we heard rumors that all planned exhibitions and programs for 2019-2020 had been cancelled, including a lecture series celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Martin D’Arcy collection.

On 10 April 2019, faculty members of the original LUMA committee sent a letter to President Rooney and Provost Callahan expressing our grave concern about the future of LUMA, stressing its role as an integral component of undergraduate and graduate education at Loyola. The committee requested a statement of the university’s intentions for this important resource and a part in all decisions about the future of the museum. The letter voiced concerns about the potential loss of the hard-earned American Alliance of Museums accreditation and the negative consequences that would result; about the fate of the prestigious D’Arcy Collection; about the loss of exhibitions and programming that support the mission of the university; about the loss of public access; and about the loss of internship opportunities for students. The committee expressed its desire to work with the administration to shape LUMA’s future.

On 14 April 2019, we received a response from Tom Kelly. He stated that:

  • LUMA would remain within the administrative services structure under Tom Kelly in order to have a more university-centric organizational structure to promote the multi-faceted and multidisciplinary mission; the D’Arcy Collection and the annual Crèche exhibit would continue to be displayed as well as some internal and periodic external exhibits.
  • A search for a new curator to replace Natasha Ritsma would be initiated.
  • He claimed that LUMA’s annual deficit has continued to grow and is anticipated to be in excess of $1.1 million this fiscal year.
  • He claimed the new organization structure would take advantage of existing staff within the division but not sustain a full-time staff of 12.
  • He claimed that American Alliance of Museums accreditation was a primary driver of increasing deficits due to requirements for a minimum number of open public hours. Thus, the university would suspend accreditation in order to “free up resources to better serve the museum’s internal academic opportunities and utilize the museum space for special events and receptions from external groups that can generate revenue, while increasing the visibility of exhibitions—many of which now have a limited exposure due to eroding attendance.”

 

These basic points were essentially echoed in an official announcement on 30 April 2019 from the Office of the President. However, its language made clear that the museum would “no longer be open to the public for daily admission, but will function as both a special event and exhibition space for internal and external groups.”

Members of the LUMA committee who wrote to Tom Kelly on 10 April 2019, expressing our concerns about the fate of the museum, later came to learn that this decision had already been made at the beginning of 2019 without any further consultation with the faculty and without notification of the LUMA committee, who had been waiting for two years for a response to and discussion of our proposal for LUMA.

In the administrative restricting, LUMA was placed under the Department of Conference Services.

Rebuttal

Several points in Tom Kelly’s response appear to be inaccurate or unclear.

This is not the same level of museum professional as a curator who can interpret collections and direct research and internships that fulfill the educational mission of the university.

  • It is unclear what is meant by an annual deficit of $1.1 million. Museums do not make money; they are funded. At the time of AAM accreditation, the university committed rental income up to $1 million to the museum. Is this what is now termed a “deficit”? In 2017 when the LUMA “blue sky” committee was convened, the rental space in Lewis Towers that provided the partial funding for LUMA was temporarily vacant after the Hershey’s Chocolate store moved, although this space has been rented again. Since the university slashed its support to $500,000 in 2017, LUMA has operated with this reduced budget, not $1 million.

Even a $1 million budget is relatively small compared to many other university museums, such as the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University ($2,874,216), University of Michigan Museum of Art ($5,639,197), or the Kemper Museum of Art, Washington University in St. Louis ($3,472,395) [comparative figures compiled in 2017 by DFPA staff].

LUMA has not had a staff of 12 since at least 2015. Its staff numbered 5 or 6 in spring 2019. In comparison, the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University employs 17 full-time employees; the University of Michigan Museum of Art, 39 full-time employees; the Kemper Museum of Art, Washington University in St. Louis, 19 full-time employees [comparative figures compiled in 2017 by DFPA staff].

  • AAM accreditation does not impose significant additional expenses on a university, but it does prevent an administration from turning galleries into commercial rental space. Tom Kelly cited AAM requirements for a minimum number of open public hours as a primary driver of increased deficits. The open public hours of LUMA were fewer than those of other major universities in Chicago–the DePaul Museum of Art, The Smart Museum (University of Chicago), or the Block Museum (Northwestern). The gallery attendant positions were staffed by Loyola University students who received Work Study funds. Thus, the cost of these employees was not totally borne by the university. These positions helped provide much-needed jobs for Loyola students who qualified for Work-Study funds.

The university in recent years, cut back open public hours, eliminating Sundays and more recently Saturdays in addition to the former Monday closing. It has also eliminated the one day of evening hours. It appears from official statements that in the future, the D’Arcy Collection will be viewable only by special appointment.

  • Tom Kelly’s response claimed that attendance was eroding. But this contradicts observations from former curator Natasha Ritsma, LUMA staff members, and museum patrons who can attest to increased attendance at many events, openings, lectures, class visits, and tours. The recent exhibit of Tonika Lewis Johnson’s “Folded Map” project addressing racial inequity in Chicago was heavily attended, drawing perhaps more viewers than any previous exhibition, and garnered considerable positive media attention.

 

Concerns Regarding the University’s New Structure for LUMA

Tom Kelly’s official statement announcing the change of LUMA’s scope of operations issued on 30 April 2019, states that LUMA “will no longer be open to the public for daily admission, but will function as both a special event and exhibition space for internal and external groups. It will continue to serve classes that arrange museum visits throughout the year, supporting academic enterprise across the University through its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs.”

This new structure, of a special collection only available through an arranged visit, raises some concerns and completely changes the concept of a functioning museum. Our original concerns that individual students would not be able to visit due to no open hours and that field trips would be virtually impossible for LSC classes due to the class grid schedule if there were no evening or weekend hours, have been somewhat alleviated by assurances from Dawn Collins, Director of Student Complex, that they want students to feel that they have access any time they need it and they will try to accommodate their schedules, if students or faculty contact the museum to make an appointment to visit individually or as a class.

However, the museum will not be able to fulfill the original purpose of the D’Arcy Collection as a place of quiet reflection for the university community. And shutting the museum away, except by appointment, is hardly likely to increase use.

In addition to the D’Arcy Collection, the special exhibits, often by contemporary artists, that focused on issues of social justice, global awareness, environmental sustainability, gender, and faith traditions addressed Loyola’s mission and served the university community. These exhibits and the related programming involved students in multiple ways as audience, participants in related performances, or as interns or employees who helped create and organize these exhibits and events. With the curtailment of exhibitions and programming, these opportunities will be lost.

The D’Arcy Collection and special exhibits and their related programming drew members of the larger Chicago community to LUMA. But when the museum is no longer open to the public or open regular hours, both the public and Loyola students will suffer this loss.

The direction of art museums today is to be more accessible to a broader audience and through their collections, exhibitions, and programming to encourage critical thinking about the past and present and world cultures and about how these relate and interact with one another in ways that can be relevant for our contemporary situation. The university has chosen a different direction.

 

LUMA played a crucial role in providing both student employment opportunities and extremely valuable internships to undergraduate and graduate students. It has been a particularly important part of the Art History program in many other disciplines as well. LUMA internships have launched careers in museums, business, graphic design, and special events. These students were carefully mentored and provided with opportunities to engage in many aspects of museum work. With the elimination of curators of collections and educational programming, interns will not have the same opportunities or be able to gain the same quality of professional museum experience and scholarship that has enabled them to lead extraordinary lives. The university’s renunciation of AAM accreditation of LUMA has discredited the museum in the professional museum community, and thus devalued an internship experience at LUMA. The goodwill of conservators and museum professionals that could be beneficial to students in the future has been jeopardized.

Although we are encouraged that the university will continue to maintain the Martin D’Arcy Collection, we are concerned that without a proper curator the collection may not be properly cared for or interpreted and that it will be impossible for students to be directed in internships specific to this important collection. It is particularly sad that on the fiftieth anniversary of this outstanding collection, the university has failed to promote and celebrate this treasure or utilize the anniversary as a way to publicize the university and as a fund-raising opportunity.

The university’s failure to make efforts to raise funds to support LUMA or replace essential museum staff has undermined LUMA’s role as an educational resource and its potential to support the stated mission of Loyola University Chicago. Closing the museum to the general public further cuts off potential sources of donations as well as failing to engage with the larger community.

On 19 June 2019, Tom Kelly reached out to interested faculty to solicit volunteers to provide faculty feedback in the interviewing process for the Collections and Events Coordinator and a Collections and Events Manager positions. Dawn Collins, Director of Conference Services and Student Complex, was to be interviewing candidates for these positions. We were encouraged that the administration was seeking this faculty input, and we were, and still are, willing to be involved if selected to participate. By near the end of summer, news was received that the initial search for a collections manager did not attract the quality of candidates desired.

 

Faculty remains concerned about the effects that the restructuring of LUMA will have on the educational mission of the university.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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