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    Tuesday, September 27, 2022

    Von Schlippe gallery supporters will plead their case to UConn board

    Groton — The University of Connecticut closed the Alexey von Schlippe Gallery of Art to the public this summer, but a group is fighting to reopen it.

    Supporters led by state Sen. Cathy Osten and von Schlippe gallery co-founder David Madacsi are planning to meet with the UConn Board of Trustees on Thursday to state their case.

    Osten believes in the importance of the von Schlippe and said Monday, “I’d like to see the gallery remain open and be run by a professional curator. ... It fits in along with things that happened with the Commission on the Arts, where we got some $30,000 in grants for the area. This is one more piece of the puzzle in regards to tourism.”

    Earlier this year, UConn officials decided to eliminate the gallery’s curator-director position as the college faced huge budget cuts from the state. Those cuts have totaled $6.9 million since 2010.

    UConn officials originally had said that closing the von Schlippe would save nearly $100,000 in the curator-director’s salary and benefits, but UConn later proposed using $36,000 to hire a graduate student to work part time at the gallery.

    The von Schlippe’s last public exhibit ended in late July. Julia Pavone, who co-founded the gallery in 1992 with Madacsi, saw her job as curator-director end around the same time.

    The gallery website may state that the site is “currently closed,” but von Schlippe advocates are not done crusading.

    Seven local legislators sent a letter to UConn Board of Trustees Chairman Lawrence D. McHugh on Aug. 2, speaking in favor of the gallery and asking the item be placed on the board’s Sept. 29 meeting agenda. The legislators wrote that they have “grave concerns” about the closing of the von Schlippe.

    “It is our understanding that the University’s sole purpose in closing this gallery is to save budgetary dollars. This proposed closing in the name of financial exigency seems to overlook the value of the Gallery to both the academic activities of the Avery Point campus and to the surrounding community of southeastern Connecticut,” states the letter, which was signed by state Sens. Osten and Paul Formica and state Reps. Kevin Ryan, Emmett Riley, Diana Urban, Devin Carney and Aundre Bumgardner.

    The legislators noted that they had met in June with UConn representatives to encourage them to keep the von Schlippe open.

    College officials, in response, proposed keeping the gallery open by having a graduate student in arts administration run the facility. The position would be for 20 hours a week, and it would mean UConn would run the gallery at least for the next two years and possibly beyond that, according to a July 11 letter from Sally M. Reis, who is vice provost for academic affairs.

    Reis wasn’t available to comment this week, with a representative referring a reporter to UConn Dean of Fine Arts Anne D’Alleva. D’Alleva did not return a call seeking an update on the gallery’s status.

    The legislators said in their Aug. 2 letter to board of trustees Chairman McHugh, “It is quite alarming to learn that, while the University proposes to shutter this gallery, at the same time, (it proposes to) retain approximately half of the $70,000 needed to fully fund the director’s salary. If the University chooses not to contribute to the direct funding of those programs via full funding of a Curator/Director, we have suggested that the University agree to provide half the funding of said position for a period of five years to allow for a transition to the status as a non-profit organization. We estimate that this would amount to approximately $36,000 annually and would require no fringe benefits. As curator/director (half-time), the current curator has indicated a willingness to provide valuable mentoring to the proposed graduate assistant.”

    They argued that the decision doesn’t seem to consider the “vital cultural value” of the gallery.

    Madacsi, who is a UConn professor emeritus, echoed the sentiments in that letter on Tuesday, saying that the $36,000 “could easily be used to support the curator-director on a half-time basis as we functioned and allow us to find another means of continuing. So if that could be done for a period of five years, we could find a way to be completely self-supporting.”

    He noted that the gallery always had generated its own operating budget through things like community memberships and annual appeals.

    As for Thursday, he said, “Hopefully, we will be given sufficient time to educate members of the board about the history and the types of programs and the value of the gallery to the campus, to the region and to the state.”

    Among the others scheduled to attend the session are representatives from New London and the Town of Groton, who will read resolutions from their councils in support of the von Schlippe.

    In a July 11 letter addressed to Osten, Formica and Ryan, Reis outlined UConn’s proposed plan at that time for the future of the gallery and arts programming at Avery Point, which went beyond adding a graduate student to run the von Schlippe.

    “As mentioned at the (earlier) meeting, our primary mission is the education, growth, and retention of our students, and whenever possible, we will continue to do what we can to provide public outreach and access, and in a range of areas. Having said that, we clearly heard the concerns of all participants and offer a plan in this memo,” she wrote.

    “Our plan maintains arts access to both the campus community and the broader community of southeastern Connecticut, while meeting our fiscal challenges and our mission to our students,” she wrote.

    She said this proposal would expand the art offerings available to students, faculty and staff, thanks to increased collaboration with other UConn departments and resources.

    “We are working to develop more specific plans but first wanted to summarize our ideas before we send you a comprehensive proposal,” she wrote at the time.

    UConn suggested establishing a new advisory committee that would decide what art would be displayed at the gallery.

    Also, the letter stated that UConn was planning various arts initiatives at Avery Point, including reinstating studio art classes; rebuilding the sculpture walk; establishing an ensemble-in-residence program that features a UConn musical ensemble “in residence,” performing concerts and engaging in outreach at each regional campus; establishing a regional campus choir program; and providing an annual architectural tour of the Branford House.


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