Shocking news today that Marylhurst University's board has voted to close the 125 year institution by the end of the year
. I dont buy the Great Recession argument, Portland is awash in new developments and art enthusiasts. Still, it was obvious to those within the art community that something was amiss with the University. Some of the signs were the longtime art school staff departures and rapid turnover
of the director of the Art Gym.
When I moved here in 1999, The Art Gym was the highest profile contemporary art space in the Portland Metro Area... and only later did other institutions and University galleries arise. Perhaps it stopped being "the place" as the scene expanded and Portland artists became more adventurous than any religiously affiliated institution could hope to show but it has always been an important venue that gave large scale solo shows and retrospectives to local artists (many with national reach). Still, I'll miss it and here are a few reviews we've published over the years:
Paula Rebsom's installation on the lovely campus grounds
Joe Macca's solo 2 artist show at the Art Gym
Mike Rathbun at the Art Gym
Will the Art Gym close? It is extremely likely, but depending what happens next it could continue. There was an endowment, how much remains? There is a precedent... PICA was formed from NEA money after PAM's art on the edge program ended. Also, what happens when the university is gone and a contemporary art venue serves continues? The Art Gym has always struggled with its location and when it was the only game in town it held more of the art crowd's attention. It needed a campus audience too but the school was very focused on continuing education and adult education who dont live onsite. Yet it is a great location with interesting buildings. With some vision around a new retooled institution it could continue. That said vision has been in short supply at Marylhurst but the world needs destinations.
All of this is incredibly unfortunate and its hard to see how it was allowed to get that bad? Boards in Portland are often very weak and the land would revert to the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Do the sisters have plans? I am very curious about more details but in 2005 they had 1245 students, now only 743 and many are online only. It seems such an immense waste and the faculty did propose other options. Could they downsize? They could retool into something more relevant for sure since I know of many design grads who ended up at top firms in Portland.
Overall, when a major local university dies during a time of rapid economic growth and a real estate boom you gotta wonder who gets blamed because clearly major mistakes were made. Perhaps they didnt value their strengths enough?
Portlanders generally want to save things like this, have they been given a chance? The school definitely had a vision problem, will the sisters have more???
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