Tonight the YU Contemporary
project held its second annual state of the YU address.
Crowd of movers and supporters at YU, November 8 2011
Last year PORT was the first to break the ambitious
new YU project
to the public but this year the bigger concern is whether they
have really made any progress.
The answer is a definite yes but it remains true that some absolutely crucial
elements (a robust board) have yet to materialize.
YU Director, Sandra Percival
The good news 1st:
1)Director Sandra Percival did at least 50% of the speaking, she's an arts
admin professional unlike co-founders Curtis and Flint. This year Flint did not
speak (he's a nice guy and a good artist but not anyone you want selling an
institution to patrons). Ultimately the buck has to stop with Percival here.
Sure, Curtis is infinitely more charismatic... but as the head of a record company
that can work against you and come off as cute in the face of real questions
(like last year).
2)YU has hired its first curator, Robert Snowden who is relocating from NYC. He's
young and brash (oddly sometimes mistaken for Rick Moranis) with a bit of a jester's
approach, instantly giving YU a lot more curatorial credibility. That curatorial
attention to detail was something they seriously biffed on during the PCVA show
by putting 4 Carl Andre bricks in a glass case
. Can he handle the 8,000 sq ft
main gallery space?... honestly you can be a pretty good curator and still get
pwnd by a space like YU's so we shall see. Overall, I'm extremely happy that YU
seems to be ditching the somewhat overly optimistic idea that a "committee"
of volunteer artists can craft and execute a serious program in what will be one
of the toughest rooms on the West Coast. Snowden is an artist himself (no crime
in that) but does
share Flint and Curtis' flair for quirky artistic obfuscation
. I think they
feel at ease with him.
3)YU received a $75,000 gift from the Martin Foundation, a certifiable major
gift and YU plans to raise $400,000 for operations in 2012. Good a major operational
fund campaign tends to require very clear plans.
4)YU will have 3 visiting artists in 2012, Shannon
. They will produce either a talk or example of their work... hopefully
it means exhibition, YU can't be coy with cheaper under produced events like
the half hearted PCVA show and expect funding. Frankly the PCVA did not operate
in coy manner, they simply dropped the art on an unsuspecting public. Thus YU
will have to deliver at least a few satisfying exhibitions and a schedule around
Jan 1 would be a positive.. BTW I suggested Mcelheny several years ago, his
work covers the intersection of installation art, craft, science, glass and
design in a way that Portland seems extra fond of. Glad they are moving forward
Not so good:
1)Still no major board additions, without which this organization is effectively
dead (many already consider them so). Not having a strong board will and currently
is hurting their credibility and they can't be taken seriously till they have
one. Everyone currently on YU's board was
being paid as staff by the initial
gift, which calls their accountability into question. *Update, Flint and Curtis are still on the board but are no longer paid staff. This is a good idea but still requires some board building.
2) Not having announced a new, stronger board many started to leave as 3 YU
supporters addressed the audience. The second speaker, artist/writer/curator Avantika
Bawa chided people who were leaving to stay. Honestly, she seemed like the strongest
personality who approached the mic tonight.
3)A local designer has designed a staircase solution... and the U of O's school
of Allied Arts is going to have student's work on the designs for the building.
Excuse me but this sounds like a very JV/piecemeal level approach to designing
the renovated space. Sometimes cheaper options are not the best options, simply
fund raise to commission a serious coherent design from a serious architecture
firm. Students are fine BUT this idea looks pretty bush league. This is another
reason an involved board seems to be crucial. Design isn't something you undertake
so lightly when you seek funding. Designs for major capital campaigns are major
funding opportunities and telegraph your intentions..
4)Serious talk about bottled water from YU's well... why not add some flavoring
and ask who is gonna drink that coolaid?
5)Didn't actually introduce the new curator by having them stand or approach the mic...
Overall, if YU doesn't install a more robust board by February I think they will
be done and they wont have any chance of raising 400k for 2012. Sure, they can pull it together but many have already lost faith because of this lapse (which I was the first to point out last year.)