This post is part of a continued series distinguishing individuals and groups by presenting a DaVinci award or a Velvet Elvis award for their role in promoting Charlottesville as the "cultural and creative capital of Central Virginia".
My first Velvet Elvis Award goes to... The University of Virginia Art Museum.
The UVa Art Museum earns this award for the firing of its Museum’s director of 11 years, Jill Hartz this past December. [Note: Technically, the Museum did not fire Jill, rather the University did. Ipso facto, this award should go to the University of Virginia as a whole]. As a quick reminder: Jill was unceremoniously dismissed from her position as director of the Museum and given 2 days to clear out her office (don’t let the door hit you on the way out). Adding insult to injury, this was done just days before Christmas – nice touch UVa. Not only was this a complete surprise to Jill (and her entire staff) but it was embarrassing, handled in a mean and sloppy manner, and appeared to ratify a personal agenda (are you listening John Casteen and Larry Goedde?).
During her tenure, Jill led the Museum into the modern era. Most notably, she was instrumental in updating the Museum’s mission and for the Museum receiving the all important accreditation from the American Association of Museums - no small feat. A big part of this new dawn for the Museum was its increased role as a community resource. That's good for everyone, right?
What makes this whole thing smell even fishier is UVa’s hiring of Elizabeth Turner just a few months prior to Jill’s dismissal. Beth Turner left a long career at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC to come to UVa. On the surface that seems harmless enough. But, the fact that the University did not announce Jill’s departure, rather they announced the advancement of Beth to Vice Provost of the Arts and Interim Museum Director (this fancy title has given her the order of "overseeing the University's programmatic and physical growth in the arts, an initiative that will make the arts central to University life") makes things seem far more sinister. The cloaked and callous administrative act of firing Jill is an example of the University circling its wagons and closing itself to the greater central Virginia citizenry. Ugh.
Regarding the Museum’s upcoming calendar of exhibitions, don’t get too excited. Other than pulling dusty work from its own collections, the Museum will feature the work of the great Russian futurist, El Lissitzky. Unfortunately, this is a rehashed show from the Phillips. Sound familiar? Speaking as a moderately educated and traveled person, I would think a progressive calendar of exhibitions would include something other than a re-hanging of its own collections or a second run show from DC (makes it sound like a $2 movie theater with sticky floors).
My big question is, does the Museum plan on removing the "Interim" moniker from Beth Turner’s title, or are they actively looking for a permanent replacement? Personally, I’m hoping for a replacement. As Charlottesville’s primary (some would say only) art museum, some transparency from UVa on this subject would be refreshing.
Something I’m sure UVa never considered: Losing Jill Hartz creates a wide ripple affect on the arts in Charlottesville. Not only has Jill left us and moved on to greener pastures in Oregon (congrats, Jill), but her husband Richard Herskowitz will soon follow. Why is this a problem? Since 1996, Richard has been the director of the wildly successful Virginia Film Festival here in C’ville. Singlehandedly, Herskowitz married national clout to a local commercial art enterprise through the promotion of filmmaking. Jill and Richard were a power couple in Charlottesville’s art scene. They will both be sorely missed. Thanks a lot UVa. For this, you deserve the first Velvet Elvis.
Oh, and one other thing… Will someone at the University authorize the Museum getting a fresh coat of paint on its walls? It has one of the drabbest interiors I have ever seen. I’m thinking there’s enough money in the University coiffeurs to spruce the place up and make it just a little bit nicer.