The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday February 4th

Ackland Art Museum braces for budget cuts

Ackland Art Museum, located on Franklin Street, opened its new exhibit "PhotoVision" on Thursday evening. The exhibit features around 150 photographs tracing the history of photography from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first century. The photographs were arranged in areas including "Photography and Multiplicity", "Sacred Spaces", "Process and Product", and "Staging the Image".
Buy Photos Ackland Art Museum, located on Franklin Street, opened its new exhibit "PhotoVision" on Thursday evening. The exhibit features around 150 photographs tracing the history of photography from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first century. The photographs were arranged in areas including "Photography and Multiplicity", "Sacred Spaces", "Process and Product", and "Staging the Image".

But many won’t know these two exhibits will both rely on the Ackland’s permanent collection, due to budgetary constraints.

“These have been tough times for the University and tough times for the Ackland,” said Peter Nisbet, interim director and chief curator at the Ackland Art Museum. “I have to say, I think we’ve done an incredible job of putting on a really good program with very little money.”

Planning the exhibitions

Exhibitions at the museum are largely centered around themes, but it’s the origin of the artwork that matters in terms of getting money for the show.

Small shows typically pull from the permanent collection of the Ackland in order to cut costs and/or showcase relevant works. Administrative Manager Suzanne Rucker said those can cost as little as a few hundred dollars.

A large show is usually brought in from an outside museum to explore a theme or idea. “More Love,” the Ackland’s 2013 Award of Excellence winner, cost $200,000 — approximately twice as much as this year’s exhibition budget. The curatorial department is tasked with finding the right mix of both.

That decision is made five years in advance, putting pressure on the museum to find money for the museum’s 10 to 12 exhibitions per year. Two of those traditionally are large shows, one shown in fall and one in spring.

“We have purposely, this year and next year, not scheduled a really big exhibition, expensive exhibition because of the budget situation across campus,” Rucker said. “But that doesn’t mean that they’re not planning one for three or four years out.”

As a University department, the Ackland receives state funding. The museum’s budget has shrunk in recent years, and while state allocations don’t directly go toward exhibitions, they do go toward employee salaries and benefits, Rucker said.

“I don’t think it’s any secret to anyone in the University community that it’s been very difficult being a part of a state university system right now, just because we’ve received a lot of cuts, the entire system, through the years,” said Lauren Turner, curatorial assistant for the Ackland.

“It does factor in because you have to be responsible with exhibition planning.”

Once the curatorial staff has decided on an exhibition, the museum applies for grants to cover the costs of insuring, shipping and mounting the art. Then, they ask for sponsorship from individuals — a base Rucker said is very loyal. To make any up remaining difference, they take the necessary money out of the William Hayes Ackland Trust.

“Fifty percent of it is allocated for acquisitions and the other 50 percent is used to fund exhibition and educational programs that go along with those exhibitions,” said Rucker. “And with grants, you apply ahead of time, and you get them or you don’t get them.”

The Ackland has adjusted to accumulated cuts over the years, said Nisbet.

“We’re doing this year inexpensively — it’s the salary part, the salary of people’s time working on the exhibition.”

Optimistic future

By making small cuts now, Nisbet hopes that the Ackland will be on its way to becoming a part of national conversation.

“We need to have the ambition to conceptualize and implement major shows and that involves staff, but it involves money for staff to travel, to be able to go and visit artists who might be in a show, or to see the works that they might want to have in a show, go to conferences to discuss ideas about shows,” Nisbet said.

For now, Nisbet is proud of these exhibitions and hopes the main fall exhibition, PhotoVision, will highlight the best the Ackland has to offer.

“I think it’s an interesting show as an example of what we can do without spending a lot of money resources, but using what we do have — which is a fantastic collection and some smart people, dedicated professionals.”

arts@dailytarheel.com



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