The Grass Is Greener: As Rice Gallery Scales Back, UH's Blaffer Forges Ahead

An image from the Blaffer Museum's upcoming exhibit, "Gabriel Kuri: Nobody needs to know the price of your Saab"
An image from the Blaffer Museum's upcoming exhibit, "Gabriel Kuri: Nobody needs to know the price of your Saab"
Courtesy of Blaffer Gallery

After we reported that Rice Gallery would most likely scale back its programming amidst the news of KTRU's pending sale to the University of Houston, we wanted to find out the state of the arts over at UH. We figured if KUHF has $10 million to spare on a second radio station dedicated to classical music, then the university itself must be pretty flush in its support of arts programs. Turns out that's mostly true. While UH is experiencing the same tightened budgets all institutions are currently implementing, it's not tight on enthusiasm. According to Blaffer Museum director Claudia Schmuckli, the arts are simply a philosophical priority for UH. Schmuckli seemed careful in her comments (not surprising amid the controversy), but she revealed a fundamental difference between the two institutions when it comes to the arts.

"President [Renu] Khator has identified the arts as one of her priorities in her overall strategic plan to achieve Tier One status, so the arts at UH have certainly benefited from the attention she's given to the various entities operating on campus. There's been a great effort to join forces and strengthen the position of the arts overall under what is now called the UH Arts initiative. It includes the School of Art, the School of Music, the School of Theater & Dance, the Blaffer, the Mitchell Center for the Arts, the School of Creative Writing and the School of Architecture. The arts units are working collectively to strengthen the position of the arts within the context of UH. That's the message."

"The budget hasn't increased. We're subject to the kinds of budget cuts that have been affecting the university across the board, so all of us have to make certain concessions."

"The university is philosophically supportive of everything we do. I am proud of the fact that you get the sense that we have ramped things up. It is something that we as an institution have actively worked toward. We are not fully supported by the university; we do our own fundraising. The university supports the museum in a very significant way, but it's prohibited by state law to contribute funds toward programming and exhibitions, so all of those funds are funds that we have to raise independently from the university. We have suffered from the same conditions everybody else has. The loss in income from individual donations is pretty reflective of the kind of reductions that museums across the country have experienced. Having the university behind us in such a strong demonstrative fashion has certainly helped us. It's a testament to our initiative."

Back to the radio scandal, while angry fans of KTRU view the sale as a smack in the face, some of the anger is strangely misguided. KUHF and classical music in general have taken flak because of recent events. But the KTRU diehards should be directing their passions strictly on the institution that sold their beloved station out from under them. What's worse? Rice University isn't even going to spend the $10 million on its ailing arts programs. Instead it'll be used to build a cafeteria.

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