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300 attend Rose Art Museum town hall meeting

Posted by Ben Terris  February 10, 2009 09:38 PM

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By Ben Terris
Globe Correspondent

Two weeks after Brandeis University announced it would sell off its art collection to ease economic hardships, Michael Rush, the Director of the Rose Art Museum, held an hour and a half public town meeting Tuesday night to discuss the state of the museum. Nearly 300 people, both young and old, packed a room filled with the vibrant colors of modernist painter Hans Hoffman to ask questions, share thoughts, and propose ways to save the museum.

Rush began the evening by rattling off names of the artists whose works inhabit this “modest Brandeis building”—Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol, among them —and then said to much applause, “Ladies and gentlemen, at the moment these artworks are not for sale.”

For everyone present, the key phrase was “at the moment.” Despite a recent public apology from University President Jehuda Reinharz for how he handled the situation, the nearly 7,000 artworks at the Rose Art Museum are still in danger of being sold off. For the people who attended this town meeting this was a tragedy.

“This museum is one of several sacred places on this campus,” said Ramie Targoff, a professor of English at Brandeis. “Everyone in this room will see that it is a sacred spot for many people in our community.”

For Peter Kalb, a professor of art history, what makes the Rose sacrosanct is both academic and philosophical.

“There is certainly discussion on campus now about the false dichotomy of art and academics. Art is academics,” Kalb said. “This is the place where art becomes a tool to further our own creativity, further academic pursuits, and also to make the world a better place.”

Perhaps the most rousing part of the evening took place when a surprise guest, Waltham Mayor Jeanette McCarthy, shared an exchanged with Rush.

McCarthy spoke about how important the museum was to the city of Waltham saying that “art is a priority” and that “it would be terrible for it to go.”

The problem, McCarthy said is in trying to find enough money to maintain the museum for the future.

To this point, Rush gave his most stirring response of the evening.

“We are self sufficient,” he said. "What needs to be maintained is Brandeis. The only money the university gives the museum is money for lights and electricity. My guess is whatever they do with the museum will use lights and electricity. Closing the museum does not save Brandeis university one penny.”

In addition to thoughts on the museum, discussion included proposals to utilize the internet to raise money, teary-eyed well wishes for museum workers, and chastisements on the administration.

“With respect to the board and administration,” Rush said. “You are not on the side of history here, not even the side of Brandeis’s own history.”

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7 comments so far...
  1. Having grown up in Massachusetts I came to respect and love the Rose Art Museum and was stunned by the news. It was good to hear of this meeting. I have since left the state (and wish I could have attended) but I pray for the continued well-being of the Rose and Brandies. These places are too good to be lost.

    Posted by Jon February 11, 09 12:06 AM
  1. Brandeis should not sell its art work--period. It's one of the stupidest and most short-sighted decisions a college has floated and it casts doubt on the fitness of its board of trustees as well as its top administration--they are panicky and uncreative. I wonder how many of them are Republicans.

    Posted by David B. February 11, 09 12:29 AM
  1. Keep fighting for the Rose Art Museum. It's worth it! Art is everything.
    L.V.

    Posted by lisa vergara February 11, 09 09:26 AM
  1. As a two-time graduate of Brandeis, I found this short-sighted decision horrifying. B-deis has always seemed like a money-hungry university and this announcement smacked of greed, not financial desperation. Perhaps if they didn't build a needless ADDITIONAL student center, this would not be an issue. The art should not be for sale. The museum should remain open. I can't even believe this is in question.

    Posted by LM February 11, 09 10:41 AM
  1. Curtailing the arts in order to save money is the kind of stragtegy I have often heard used by middle and high schools in rural midwestern towns, not from the prestigious university that Brandeis is and needs to remain. This is a move that will damage the university's reputation, narrow its scope, and damage its competitiveness in an increasingly competitive world. More money is not the answer to every problem, most especially when it comes to academics. I believe the board and administration need to be questioned seriously about how this decision was reached, and probably need to rethink it. What would Einstein think about selling off the art collection? How about Bernstein? How about Louis Brandeis? Let's not forget who the founders of this college were, where they came from, and what their vision was.

    Posted by Matt Goldsmith, Boston, MA February 11, 09 11:40 AM
  1. How many students' tuitions could be paid for with $350 million? If the museum is self sufficient, break off from the school and operate as a self-sufficient entity. If the museum can show exactly how a Warhol painting is incorporated into the students' curriculum, then perhaps the museum belongs in a school. If it is simply a museum that happens to be owned by a school, and few current, active students actually use it, while it is often visited by non-students, then it is time to break the museum away from the school and continue on it's own.

    Out of the four people who have commented thus far, I find it interesting that none are current students.

    Posted by Sean February 11, 09 11:48 AM
  1. Aside from the fact that Brandeis University has decided to try to solve their economic crisis by selling and scattering to the winds a collection that someone at some point felt was important to the University, my concern is that someone is looking into the legality of each sale. If the art work was donated, is Brandeis violating the terms of the gift agreement? If selling a work that was acquired with donated funds, are the terms of that donation being violated? Donors who give art to museums usually want the work of art they are giving made available to the public. While donors also get a tax deduction, their decision to give is driven by a desire to have the work of art taken care of by a professional museum staff and be made available to art lovers and students whose lives will be enriched by seeing the art.

    Posted by Sarah Tappen, RI February 12, 09 04:13 PM