New Directions

Bill Burgess and Don Quade raise Walker's status, but the chips are down at the CVA.

Truth be told, the CVA was always a weird (if wonderful) idea, since it is an elite institution that promotes the best art available, while Metro itself is a commuter college with a learning-for-all philosophy. In a sense, it's been on borrowed time from the start.

Originally situated at 17th and Wazee streets, the CVA was really the city's first museum of contemporary art. The reason Metro was associated with something like the CVA can be explained in two words: Sally Perisho. Hired just a few months after the gallery was opened, Perisho had the opportunity to define the place. Instead of focusing on Metro students and teachers, she immediately dove into presenting significant exhibits and in raising the necessary money to do them. She often booked shows that focused on art by women and minorities. These politically correct subjects insured the availability of grants, but Perisho also had a knack for raising money from private donors. In fact, things were going so well that in 1998 the CVA moved into its current gorgeous space on Wazee Street, next door to the Robischon Gallery.

In 2001, Perisho ran afoul of her boss at Metro, Carolyn Shaefer Wollard, then head of the Office of Institutional Advancement. President Sheila Kaplan fired Perisho during the winter semester break, when the school was closed, but a huge commotion was made by members of the community, many of whom were outraged by what had happened.

"Convolution," by Bill Burgess, welded-steel sculpture.
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"Convolution," by Bill Burgess, welded-steel sculpture.
"Journal II," by Don Quade, mixed media on board.
"Journal II," by Don Quade, mixed media on board.

Details

Through May 7, Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue, 303-355-8955

Early in 2002, Kathy Andrews was hired as Perisho's replacement, and most everyone -- including me -- was delighted by the decision. I saw it as a move that would, to some extent, soothe the bad feelings that were still out there over Perisho's firing. Andrews was locally well respected, having spent nearly ten years at the Arvada Center as chief curator and director of the art program. Since many of the CVA shows were already booked when Andrews was hired, she'd only barely begun to establish her vision. The promise of great things to come was especially evident in her most recent effort, the intelligent Leaving Aztl´n, which looked at post-Chicano art.

We probably won't get a chance to see what Andrews would have done in the future, because Metro's draconian financial program for the CVA has not only eliminated general funding, but has specifically eliminated her job. In place of a full-time CVA director, there's a new job description for a part-time director who will also teach at Metro. It's unclear whether Andrews will go for that, but it must have limited appeal for her, since it pays half as much with twice the required effort.

The CVA, formerly overseen by Metro's development office, has been handed over to the art department, and the chair, Greg Watts, was named as acting interim director after Andrews's contract expires. Having been hired under Kaplan's administration, Andrews had forged close relationships with staff from that regime, particularly Wollard; at the same time, her ties to members of the art-department faculty have been somewhat spotty. So when these recent decisions were made, Andrews was left with almost no one at Metro to speak up for her or the CVA.

The nature of the CVA is to change, and it's to become a more campus-oriented facility where the work of faculty and students will be the mainstay. Traditionally, the CVA has done exhibits featuring artists with regional, national or international reputations, with the idea that exposing Metro's students to important work was a valuable service. It was a good rationale while it lasted.

One of the most outrageous aspects of the matter, as far as I'm concerned, is that a decision of this magnitude was made during the interregnum between Metro administrations. Though not part of the defunding decision, Watts, along with others, apparently took advantage of the leadership vacuum to pull off what can only be called a triumph of Machiavellian strategy. The whole mess is surely a personal blow to director Andrews, but -- trust me on this -- it's going to hurt the rest of us, too.

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