The Museum of Art at the University of New Hampshire will permanently close, director Kristina L. Durocher announced in an open letter to faculty, staff, and students last week.
The museum, Durocher wrote, was in the middle of plans to replace its HVAC system, which she had hoped would help it gain accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums, the top industry group of its kind for museums in the US.
The AAM offers recommendations, standards, ethical considerations, and more to museum leaders. Accreditation is a prestigious mark of distinction for an institution and, Durocher noted in her letter, can open “the door to private and public grants,” as well as important loans from other accredited institutions and gifts from top collectors.
Construction on the new HVAC system was scheduled to start in early December. Instead, the university decided to close the museum just over a month later on January 16.
“UNH’s decision to close the museum was, I am told, a difficult one, brought on by declining enrollment, and it comes with a mix of emotions,” wrote Durocher, who has served as director since 2011.
UNH, a public land-grant university, laid off 75 of its 3,700 employees in mid-January in a bid to reduce annual expenses by $14 million, UNH president James Dean Jr. announced at the time, according to education news outlet Higher Ed Dive. UNH currently has an endowment of $475.1 million, according to its FY2023 report, which is well below the biggest public universities and top private schools.
Last September, the University of System of New Hampshire released its annual board report. It reported that full time student enrollment for all UNH campuses had dropped 13.6 percent since FY2019, blaming “New England demographics and overall market changes.”
More plainly, as Nathan Grawe, an economics professor at Careleton College in Minnesota, told the New Hampshire Bulletin, the US is experiencing population decline, which has led to fewer people graduating high school and enrolling in college. The effects of this are particularly pronounced in the Northeast, he said.
“We know these challenges will persist in the coming years, and we must act to ensure that UNH is on firm financial footing to weather the challenges ahead,” Dean, who is set to retire in June, said in his statement, alluding to those overall changes.
In her letter, Durocher noted that it is unusual for an institution as large as UNH to not have a museum. The UNH Museum of Art has over 200 paintings, 400 photographs, 1,000 works on paper, and around 20 sculptures in its permanent collection. That includes photographs by Andy Warhol, etchings by Goya and Rembrandt, paintings by Boston expressionists Hyman Bloom and Karl Zerbe, and prints by Max Ernst, David Hockney, Joan Miró, Pierre Soulages, and more.
“Since 1941, there have been exhibitions of works of art on campus, including loans from storied institutions such as National Gallery of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Institute; in 1950 a donation of European paintings formed the basis of the Museum’s collection; in 1960 the gallery was centrally located in the newly built Paul Creative Arts Center; in 1971 we began to institute best-practices under the leadership of a professional gallery director and board of advisors; and in 2010 the Art Gallery was renamed the Museum of Art in recognition of our role as stewards of a growing art collection,” she wrote. “And I, as president of the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, and a respected museum professional, am wounded to be at the head of an academic museum that after 60 years is closing.”