Eugene Weekly : Visual Art : 6.26.08

Taking the Helm
New J-Schnitz director finds her way to Eugene
by Suzi Steffen

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, it’s fair to say, hasn’t been a tightly piloted craft. With a beautifully re-created building but an unclear focus and rumors of disgruntled donors, the UO’s museum lost a director and suddenly started reporting to the office of advancement — that is to say, the fundraising arm of the university. A search began.

On May 1, the director search committee announced its choice: Jill Hartz. Hartz served as the director for the University of Virginia’s art museum for more than a decade, gaining accreditation from the American Association of Museums and bringing in nationally recognized artists for exhibits. Arts reporters in Charlottesville, Va., also lauded Hartz for her attention to contemporary artists and her ability to give the museum both academic and regional credibility. Since the J-Schnitz needs all of that — and fundraising, a skill Hartz also possesses — this decision appears quite logical. Hartz officially begins work on August 11, but she’s in town for a couple of weeks and spoke to EW over the phone about her early goals and plans to guide the museum into a new era.

Tell me what challenges you see at the J-Schnitz.

To know the culture and the players, to make sure I see everyone I should, to learn how the museum can serve off-campus audiences and also serve as a teaching museum. I need to learn more about the Northwest and Northwest art, how I can work with other university museums and general museums in the Pacific Northwest. Of course, to identify goals for the future of this museum. And one of the challenges will be reaccreditation.

How will you strengthen academic con-nections?

I think that starts with faculty and students, meeting and listening to them, and finding the intersections between their research and interests and our programs and exhibitions. Faculty make great curators, and it would be great to bring them on because we have a small staff. We should raid the intellectual capital we have available here. People coming to me, me going to other people and to faculty meetings, getting to know what the strengths are at the university and how we can use those. I did that successfully at the University of Virginia.

How do you feel about reporting to the office of advancement instead of to the provost?

I love [VP for University Advancement] Allan Price. I think he is an amazing man. He really has the welfare of the museum in his heart. It’s great to have someone who is so supportive and so close to the president. And he is extremely sensitive to the needs of the academic program. He knows, as do I, that the museum has to support the broad academic program. While the UO is in a campaign, it’s been a strong situation with the support he has been able to gain for the museum. At some point, maybe, sometime in the future, as we develop a strategic plan, get reaccreditation, something may happen. 

What’s the role of a state university’s museum when funding is tight?

It’s a funny question because people say to me, you’ve been at the University of Virginia, a really rich university, and Oregon is not the same, but in fact at the UVA, my budget was cut over 11 years. I was able to raise more than a million dollars a year from private foundations and individuals. The UO does what it can, and as we strengthen ties with academic programs and alumni and others, the university may have more resources available to us.

How much of your job will be fund-raising?

Well, it’s an essential part of a director’s role, to go to people who care most about the museum and can make your vision happen. There’s the opportunity to get the vision out there and get to do what you want to do. We’re lucky that the UO supports us at the level it does, and to know there are so many supporters who can help us is great.

What will you miss most about Virginia?

I miss all the friends I’ve made over so many years, so that’s really hard. I have a house with a pool; I’m going to miss my pool. It will be harder for me to get to N.Y. to see shows, but on the other hand, I have this opportunity to get to know the art scene in L.A., San Francisco and Seattle, on the West Coast.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve been reading on the plane! I mostly read fiction. Right now, I’m finishing Haruki Murakami’s After Dark and look forward to reading Timothy Egan’s The Good Rain to immerse myself in the Northwest. Any other suggestions to bring me up to speed are most welcome.