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Rhode Island design college's turmoil echoes 2008 upheaval at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design

December 7, 2009 |  3:14 pm

RISDA Boston Globe article about recent turbulence at the Rhode Island School of Design brings to mind similarities between that school's controversies and conflict a year earlier at its Southern California peer, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, which led to the departure of Art Center's president, Richard Koshalek.

At the Providence, R.I., college, which, like Art Center, is a top-tier destination for students of art and design, it was the campus’ museum director, rather than its president, who walked the plank. But in both cases, the combination of dwindling resources and ambitious building programs factored heavily into the parting of ways.

At Art Center, Koshalek’s bid to expand the campus with a new, $50-million building by Frank Gehry led to a backlash in mid-2008 from students and alumni who felt the president was putting the architectural cart before the academic horse. With tuition rising and a perceived slippage in studio equipment and facilities, protests at Art Center focused on whether the push to adorn the campus and heighten the school's profile was sapping money and energy from educational needs. Art Center’s board suspended the capital campaign, and Koshalek, now the director of the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, soon resigned.

In Rhode Island, the Globe’s Geoff Edgers reports, the $34-million Chace Center, a museum and classroom building by another Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Jose Rafael Moneo, became a reality in 2008. But the fallout was similar: “We have a new museum building on our campus that cost a hell of a lot of money, and that took the attention away from maintaining buildings and raising money for financial aid,” the president of RISD’s faculty association told the Globe.

ArtCenterGinaFerazziLAT Also at play at RISD (as at Brandeis University) were college-museum politics: the idea that it might be necessary to liquidate works held by the art museum, for the sake of shoring up the parent institution’s finances. The Globe reports that two faculty members at RISD proposed such a sale and that the museum’s director was openly unhappy when the college’s president, John Maeda, didn’t summarily reject it. Maeda said it should be discussed even though he was personally opposed to selling any art.

Just how much deaccessioning and fallout from construction expenditures played into the apparent cashiering of RISD's museum director, Hope Alswang, is unclear, because neither she nor Maeda has made any substantive public statements.

-- Mike Boehm


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

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

Dissension at Art Center College of Design

Upper photo: The Chace Center at the Rhode Island School of Design. Credit: Warren Jagger Photography / RISD Museum of Art.

Lower photo: Art Center College of Design. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times.