DIRECTOR'S CHAIR: A year and a half after the death of Peter Birmingham, its beloved leader for almost 21 years, the University of Arizona Museum of Art has picked a new executive director.
Charles Guerin comes to the university museum from the University of Wyoming Art Museum, which he's led since 1986. He's expected to take over his new Arizona job in July. A working artist as well as a museum professional, Guerin has an MFA in printmaking from Northern Illinois University, and an MA in painting from the same school. During the years he was building his museum career, at Wyoming and before that at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, he was also making and exhibiting his own art. His last solo show was in 1999 at the William Havu Gallery in Denver. The Art Institute of Chicago, among many other institutions, owns a piece of his work.
The art is a bonus, but "we were looking for a museum director," says Peter Briggs, acting chief curator. "The bottom line was the candidate had to have a master's degree of some kind. We were looking for an experienced museum director who knows all the ins and outs. We preferred university experience."
Guerin has that in abundance. The museum he's led for 14 years is comparable to the UAMA. It has about the same number of objects--7000--and like the UAMA's the collection is meant to complement the university's educational mission. The University of Wyoming is about half the size of the University of Arizona, but Guerin nevertheless managed to get a spanking new building funded and built. Completed in 1993, the new museum is 50,000 square feet of state-of- the-art space. That feat had to be persuasive to the search committee, whose members are well aware that the UAMA is so squeezed for space that only about 5 percent of the permanent collection is on view at any given time.
Guerin edged out two other finalists for the job, both of them women. Lee Karpiscak, acting executive director of the museum, is a longtime UAMA staffer with an MA in art history. Elaine King, who has a doctorate in art history, is a curator and critic most recently affiliated with New York University. The search team included Robert Yassin, director of the Tucson Museum of Art; Maurice Sevigny, UA dean of fine arts; Andy Polk, head of the art department; Charles Tatum, dean of humanities; and Briggs.
No word yet on Guerin's program for the museum, where like his predecessor he will be both director and chief curator. The Wyoming museum he's leaving has a collection of traditional Native American arts, including Pueblo ceramics and Navajo weavings, as well as contemporary paintings and sculpture. In Arizona, the UAMA is one of many museums scattered around the state; but in Wyoming a museum job is a lonelier gig. "There are more people in Tucson than in the whole state," Briggs said. "It's the only broad collecting museum in Wyoming."
SUNNYSIDE UP: Kudos to the Sunnyside Unified School District Board majority, including President Eva Dong and members Luis Araiza and Robert Jaramillo, for standing up to blowhard dissenters Linda Lopez and Ned Norris Jr. and choosing Raul Bejarano as superintendent for the 14,000-student district on the south side. Bejarano is a candid and open educator who taught and served in a wide variety of administrative roles for the Nogales public schools for 30 years. His gig as superintendent there was swallowed by the nasty and off-target politics that dominates Nogales schools.
Norris, the big man of the Tohono O'odham gambling halls, grumbled about wanting to restart the search after he was unable to vote for Bejarano. And he'll try to extract much from Bejarano, an accommodating sort who immediately reached out to Norris and Lopez, while also wanting the new superintendent to kiss his ring.
Lopez was even less credible when, with usual petulance and condescension, she said Bejarano was a good superintendent but not for Sunnyside. "Nogales is not Sunnyside."
An Indiana native who trades politically on the Lopez name she acquired, it seems she would have been more content with the other finalist, Arlis Swartzendruber of Waterloo, Iowa.
Good for Dong, Araiza and Jaramillo. They already had the Iowa experience with the unsteady leadership of outgoing Superintendent Mary Werner Garcia.