Archive for Thursday, December 16, 2004

Spencer names museum director

KU’s choice comes home after stints in Salina, Washington

December 16, 2004


A national expert in the visual arts with deep roots in Kansas and at Kansas University has been named the new director of the Spencer Museum of Art, university officials will announce today.

Saralyn Reece Hardy, director of the Salina Art Center and former director of museums and visual arts at the National En-dowment for the Arts in Washington, will take the helm March 14. She will succeed interim director Fred Pawlicki, who has led the museum since Andrea Norris was fired in March.

"Of everybody that we interviewed, there were people who had good credentials, there were people who had incredible backgrounds in the arts. But she brings a sense of vibrancy, vitality, innovation, enthusiasm, sincerity and charisma to the job that I can't help but think will give the Spencer a jump-start," said Gunda Hiebert, president of the Friends of the Art Museum board and member of the search committee that selected Hardy.

The Scandia native, sister of federal judge and Lawrence resident Deanell Tacha, is no stranger to Lawrence or the university. She earned a bachelor's degree in integrated arts in 1976 and a master's degree in American studies in 1994 at KU. She also worked as a project coordinator at the Spencer from 1977 to 1979.

"I am very honored by the appointment and also very excited about what is possible both at the Spencer and the university," Hardy said. "I can imagine the Spencer as a very lively, open forum -- a place where artistic engagement and critical engagement come together."

New challenges

Hardy will take the reins at a critical time for the museum. The university would like to expand the building to accommodate the museum's ever-growing collection of more than 25,000 objects. About $2 million of the estimated $14 million price tag has been raised.

Hardy has led several capital campaigns in Salina and is in the midst of a $1.5 million drive to turn a donated downtown warehouse into a space for artists to live, work and teach.

"Fund raising is a side effect of the bigger challenge, which is connecting people and art," Hardy said. "My goal with fund raising is to try to bring together people and art through the vehicle of the museum, and I believe the fund raising will follow. Relative to my experience in Salina, the program and the mission have always led the fund raising."

Except for a three-year appointment at the NEA from 1999 to 2002, Hardy has led the now-nationally known Salina Art Center since 1986, overseeing growth of the center from a small community gallery to a contemporary art center with a national and international exhibition schedule, an education program, an interactive area and a film program. The center, which attracts 40,000 visitors annually, captured attention earlier this year for receiving a major initiative grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Despite the fact that the Salina Art Center is an independent entity, search committee members said they weren't concerned about Hardy's ability to make the transition to an academic setting.

"I think that the caliber of presentations that she has overseen in Salina suggests a seriousness of purpose and a sophistication which will make the university context comfortable for her," said Charles Eldredge, KU distinguished professor of art history and chairman of the search committee.


Hardy's specialty is contemporary art. She has exposed Salina residents to the likes of Warhol, Ernesto Pujol, Nikki Lee, William Kentridge and Lawrence's own Roger Shimomura and Maria Velasco.

"She has developed a style of art center that is very community-based, that emphasizes dialogue between the community and the artists and the art, and I think that's what developed a national reputation for her and for us," said the Rev. Frank Coady, chairman of the Salina Art Center board of directors.

One of Hardy's goals at the Spencer is to establish similar relationships between the museum and both the university and Lawrence communities. She mentioned collaborations with the Hall Center, the Biodiversity Research Center, the Spencer Research Library and the Lied Center.

"I love the idea of sitting down at a table with people who know different things than I know and creating something beautiful and powerful," Hardy said.

She already has worked some with the staff she'll inherit in March. She co-curated "Conflicting Memories," which was exhibited in Salina in fall 2003 and Lawrence in spring 2004, with Stephen Goddard, senior curator of prints and drawings at the Spencer. She also co-organized a Warhol exhibit with David Cateforis, associate professor of art history.

Age: 52Education: bachelor's degree in integrated arts, KU, 1976; master's degree in American studies, KU, 1994Professional activities: Getty Leadership Institute advisory committee, American Federation of Arts museum directors' program, American Association of Museums, Museum Trustee Assn., Museum Loan Network Advisory Panel, Institute for Museum and Library ServicesAwards: National Endowment for the Arts 2001 Distinguished Service Award, 1995 Kansas Governor's Art Award for arts advocate, Salina YWCA Women of Achievement award for nonprofit leadershipFamily: husband, Randall; sons, Stephen, William and Thomas; sisters, Deanell Reece Tacha, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit, Mary Lou Reece, president of Reece Construction, now of Wichita, and speech pathologist Jane Ann Reece of Salina.

"She has proven to be a very positive and enthusiastic collaborator both with our department and with the museum," said Goddard, who served on the search committee.

Infectious enthusiasm

At the NEA, Hardy was the chief museum and visual arts expert. She reviewed proposals from the field, selected expert peer panels, proposed funding amounts and presented grant recommendations to the National Council for the Arts.

"Saralyn was fabulous at finding really excellent panelists who didn't happen to be from the major centers (Boston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles)," said Karen Christensen, former deputy chairwoman for grants and awards at the NEA and now an art consultant in Arizona. "I think it helped all the other directors see that there's a rich and deep artistic pool everywhere in the country, and that sometimes the reliance on some of the bigger urban centers was totally misplaced."

Expanding legacy

Hiebert praised Pawlicki for his work during the transition between directors.

"From the day he took over as interim director, he has been absolutely working as hard as he could and as fast as he could to put the Spencer on a footing where whoever took it over from him would be light years down the path," she said.

Hardy is looking forward to expanding upon the efforts of Pawlicki and his predecessors.

"We have to broaden the idea of who art is for, who museums serve, what the different voices have to say," she said. "I am quite conscious of the rich legacy of leadership of all the former directors of the Spencer and look forward to advancing their work."

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