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Thursday 04.25.19

« Mid April Links | Main | Weekend Picks »

Thoughts on Tuski leaving PNCA

Outgoing PNCA President Don Tuski

The news today that Don Tuski, current President of PNCA is leaving the school after only 3 years wasnt unexpected (certain exchanges then lack of follow up were a tell). First, higher education in general is in an incredibly challenging position... that of a destabilized financial model for any tuition based school without state funding (and that's dwindling too). More specific to Tuski, who had a stabilizing influence despite the relentless turmoil of rival school closures and ultimately the decision not to merge with OCAC ... he always seemed like a genial presence rather than the dynamic one of his predecessor (needed for a time). Now that PNCA has been somewhat stabilized (by virtue of outlasting rivals) it really needs a master fundraiser to shore up endowments for scholarships and professor positions as that is the only way to weather the current storm. Seems like Tuski going back to Michigan (in addition to being back to his roots and family) is a return to funders who are trying to reinvest in Michigan. Oregon is a younger state where a lot of the money here hasnt learned how to participate as effectively, leaving only a few Oregon families to take lead roles (most of whom tied heavily to real estate). Real estate money behaves differently than industrial, lumber, financial, new entrepreneurial and tech money (all new money). The Midwest has a different mindset, they realize that without investments all the talent ends up on the coasts. I suggest the next president be a visionary and relentless fundraiser. They should also be a better talent scout than most Portland institutional leaders tend to be. Tuski did have the vision to open a new GLASS building in North Portland, providing large scale ceramics and other staging possibilities. Still, the sense is only the most ambitious and talent driven art schools with the funding to attract those students with scholarships will survive the turmoil of the current student debt crisis and massive cost of education in the coming decade. Yet Portland is full of design and other creative sector firms so the disconnect between where funding/recruitment is placed and where it is derived seems pronounced. Tuski seemed capable but unable to really capture the imagination of Portlanders, perhaps he gave them too much of what they wanted... his predecessor, Tom Manley, was far more ambitious and controversial yet one of the most crucial Portlanders of the 21st century. They both inherited very different times and institutions.

Institutionally, Portland has an allergy towards ambitious talent that it needs to get over (the ignoring of Rothko was exhibit A, but now PAM is addressing this so there is hope things are changing). Part of the reason Portland is now considered a serious arts hub is the cadre of major talent here but too often those sorts just feel like our institutions are too tied up in pettier dramas (local politics) to see the bigger picture and prize. For example many Oregon art awards seem more concerned with whether the artists are teachers and work in traditional media... not how relevant, exceptional and genre challenging they are. The good news is Portland has an immense # of very talented artists who are exhibiting all over the planet and use Portland as a rebel base. My hope is the next president of PNCA can move the to that next phase, where it doesnt just consider itself a hub for Portland but a visionary place for what 21st century arts education can be. Weve seen that the soft and gradual approach to arts higher education doesnt really light anyone's fire and that is exactly what we need from Portland's arts leadership. The next President of PNCA needs to be that kind of assertively dynamic force and I think Tuski understood that (think of the Godfather's, "not a wartime Consiglier"). Thank you for stabilizing PNCA, now we need something more. I see this as a positive retooling opportunity in very challenging times.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on April 25, 2019 at 13:17 | Comments (0)


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