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Art Center College of Design's new president looks to the future*

July 9, 2009 |  4:00 am

Artcenter1 A little more than a year ago, Richard Koshalek was pushed from the presidency of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design after an eruption of resentment among many students and alumni who said that he’d become too focused on building the small, elite institution’s bigger future -- and too removed from students' immediate need of scholarships and properly equipped work spaces.

Lorne M. Buchman, announced Wednesday as Art Center’s next president, will take charge in October, bringing with him years of experience during the 1990s running a rival art and design school in the Bay Area -- and in raising money to build bigger and better facilities.

But as he circles back into educating artists after working as a consultant for charities building new facilities, and heading a San Francisco graduate school of psychology, the former Shakespearean scholar says the issue is not whether to build or not to build, but what kind of learning needs to happen.

“I’ve visited the South Campus and think it’s a spectacular achievement,” Buchman said of Art Center's graduate and community-education facilities near Old Town Pasadena (pictured at left). They are several miles from the main campus overlooking the Rose Bowl, and were planned and built during Koshalek’s 10-year administration. That conversion of a former aircraft engine-testing facility, known as the Wind Tunnel, was the first phase in a planned makeover and expansion that was to include a Frank Gehry-designed research center for the main campus.

“But,” Buchman said, “the project has to be informed first and foremost by the educational mission. If [new] buildings are serving the mission, I’m interested in pursuing them. If it’s the other way around, that’s a recipe for chaos and dysfunction.”

Buchman The 51-year-old Buchman (pictured at left) grew up in Toronto and earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto. He has been a Californian for 30 years, since arriving at Stanford, where he earned a doctorate in drama and humanities. He taught at UC Berkeley, chairing its theater department and authoring a study of cinematic treatments of Shakespeare, “Still in Movement: Shakespeare on Screen,” which the Oxford University Press published in 1991.

In 1992 he became provost of the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts) and was its president from 1994 to 1999. There, he shepherded the creation of a new San Francisco campus to augment the existing one in Oakland. Next, he launched a consulting company, Buchman Associates, that specializes in helping nonprofit groups raise money for building projects. Since 2006, he has been president of Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center in San Francisco, which teaches an approach known as humanistic psychology.

“We were looking for a proven leader, someone who had been president of a university or college, someone specifically who had been involved in art and design. Lorne filled the bill to the note,” said Robert C. Davidson, the trustee who chaired Art Center's search committee.

Buchman said he is glad to be returning to the arts after his foray into educating psychologists. “I learned new and different things and was eager to bring it back to an art and design school. My training and background is in the arts, and my heart is in design education.”

He aims to start by trying to be “as efficacious a listener as I possibly can be. I need to understand the mission from the experience of the students and faculty,” before deciding whether the frozen expansion plans should be revived.

An oft-voiced fear during last year’s turbulence was that fundraising for expansion was competing with fundraising for scholarship money -- and that without more scholarships, the $128,000 in tuition and fees for an undergraduate fine arts degree would put Art Center beyond the reach of all but the well-to-do.
Now the focus is strictly on raising money for scholarships and operations, said trustee Davidson. “The board has put all those [building] projects on hold. We are focused keenly on scholarships.”

Also gone is the International Initiatives department Koshalek had established with an eye toward bringing Art Center toward global prominence, and its students into contact with a broader scope of ideas and potential employers -- vital to their prospects and effectiveness, he believed, in a design world growing more international. It will be up to Buchman to decide whether, and on what scale, to continue the biennial design conferences that drew an assortment of art and media luminaries to the South Campus to riff on a central theme.

The events that ushered in new leadership at Art Center began with the sudden resignation in May 2008 RichardKoshalek of the school’s chief academic officer, Nate Young. Students and alumni began an online petition protesting Koshalek’s approach and challenging his priorities, which his critics said focused too much on building the campus and the college’s national and international reputation, and too little on providing scholarships and improving existing studios and work spaces that many felt had grown overcrowded and out of date.

Koshalek (pictured at right) had been hired in 1999 from his previous job as director of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, with a mandate to carry out an ambitious capital and fundraising campaign. But the board reversed course amid the protest, denying him the contract extension he’d requested so he could complete the campaign. In September, Koshalek resigned rather than serve the remaining year-plus on his contract; in April he was hired as director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Last fall, Art Center hired Frank Ellsworth, a former president of Pitzker College, as its interim president. Mike Rios-Belden, an Art Center student who heads the Show, an organization aimed at creating a sense of community on the commuters-only campus and more opportunities for students to display their work, said Wednesday that Ellsworth deserves credit for establishing closer ties with students, and for pushing a long-delayed remodeling of the campus cafeteria so that students now have a round-the-clock place to study and meet.

A U.S. Army veteran who’s in his final term, Rios-Belden said he couldn’t have attended without G.I. benefits and a substantial scholarship grant, and worries that doors could be closing for students like himself.

“I find it dismaying. I started at a school with tuition of $12,000 a term, and in a little over four years it ballooned to over $15,000 a term. My fear is it is going to become a school where it’s not so much about the talent, as being able to afford to go.”

-- Mike Boehm

*Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Pitzer College as Pritzker College.

Related stories:

Dissension at Art Center College of Design

Art Center won't renew contract of president

Richard Koshalek's expansive vision got him ousted in Pasadena but hired in D.C.

Top photo: Art Center College of Design's South Campus; credit: Steven A. Heller / Art Center College of Design. Middle photo: Lorne M. Buchman; credit: © Dlugolecki Photography / Art Center College of Design 2009. Bottom photo: Richard Koshalek; credit: Los Angeles Times