Hurricane-weary and ready for much needed visual solace, I made a pilgrimage to the Paul & Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum. The exhibition halls were abuzz with fellow evacuees taking in the final days of the Rauschenberg exhibition. As a UL alumni and former staff member of the art museum (Fletcher Hall), my feelings of storm displacement were erased by the fact that for many years Lafayette was home.
It was disheartening to read R. Reese Fuller's article "Museum Meltdown" (Nov. 23). I am perplexed that the Sheltons found reason to doubt Herman Mhire's ability to organize exhibitions. I can't imagine that these local collectors were unaware of Mhire's track record in organizing exhibitions and important cultural events such as Festival International.
I'm also baffled that the university administration has allowed the loss of a talented faculty member whose years of accomplishments have long benefited the university and the community. How often do faculty earn the distinction of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French government? It looks like a bad precedent is about to be set by caving in to the pressures exerted by collectors who attempt to direct museum affairs and disregard exhibition contracts.
The whole scenario reads like a case study straight out of a museum management course I took in graduate school. I suggest the following reading material: the Smithsonian Institution Press publication, Museum Governance: Mission, Ethics, Policy by Marie C. Malaro. I strongly recommend it for Dr. Authement and associated administrators, the museum staff (professionals need to brush up from time to time) and the governing board, for it will empower them as museum advocates.
In six years that I was assistant to Mhire, grant deadlines were met, exhibitions were budgeted responsibly and sponsorships designed with the goal of providing visitors the highest quality museum experience. The students of UL could take pride in the fact that tuition fees for the museum were dedicated solely to exhibitions. With full exhibition schedules in both Fletcher Hall and the former foundation building, there was absolutely no time for petty interferences to distract from the mission and goals of the museum.
As I see it, the future of the University Art Museum could be instrumental in Louisiana's recovery, as arts and culture are already poised to lead the way. There is much work to be done. I hope the university administration will allow the museum's governing board to embrace that opportunity.