The University of Idaho announced Tuesday it is shifting priorities for the Prichard Art Gallery in downtown Moscow.Long recognized as one of the few public, contemporary art galleries in the state, the gallery will focus on work by faculty and students in 2021 and will operate on reduced hours starting next month. It announced the changes in a press release. In addition, it ended a contract with Director Roger Rowley who held the position for 15 years.
The gallery operates under the auspices of the UI College of Art and Architecture. Gallery operations were affected by budget reductions last spring, Dean Shauna Corry said.
“That was something we had to give back to the university. We had to give back the assistant director and director positions and the money we used for rent. In the last six months we have found sources to help keep the gallery open this semester. We are really excited to keep the gallery open, however it will look different,” Corry said.
Rowley said the news release was confirmation that his annual contract with the university will not be renewed. It is set to expire Dec. 31.
“It came down to a choice of one of the departments going a way or the gallery. It was determined funding for the gallery is what would go away,” he said.
Over the past few months Rowley said he tried to work with university officials on a plan that would keep the gallery operating uninterrupted, as it is.
“There were options. It was possible; we could have done it. It’s just clear from (Tuesday’s) press release that the vision and plan the university has in mind for the gallery does not include me. They’ve decided where they want to go,” Rowley said.
While the university leases the space the gallery is in and paid the salaries of the director and assistant, the gallery was self-supporting in terms of its programming, said Rowley. This included multiple exhibitions by internationally and nationally recognized artists each year and K-12 outreach programs. Exhibits have highlighted works that challenge and critique social and institutional structures and explore identity through experimental music, technology, photography and other mediums.
The gallery began on campus as a faculty effort to create a space where students would be exposed to contemporary art, Rowley said.
“That was the void that was missing in their education, and that was the core that informed the Prichard downtown creation and what we have always focused on: contemporary art that our students and community need to see to get the education they need to operate in the world. That’s always been the driving force for what we’ve done.”
Without a place like the Prichard to experience world-class contemporary art, “there aren’t other choices out there,” said Rowley, who was recognized in October with a 2020 Idaho Governor’s Award in the Arts for Excellence in Arts Administration. The award honors those who have made a significant contribution to cultural life in the state.
Corry called Rowley “an incredible force for the gallery in terms of the quality of work he has brought to the gallery and the transformational experiences he’s provided for students.”
“I think Roger has some very solid goals for the gallery but unfortunately, I think with funding right now, we’re not able to do that.”
Corry said it’s a challenging time for everyone because of budget cuts.
“We will be looking at ways to reimagine the gallery with faculty, staff, students and the Prichard board, focusing on the future and how we can secure funding and go forward.”
She plans to continue to reach out to donors and would eventually like to see the gallery endowed. There are plans to hire a professional staff member on a temporary basis to oversee operations. The gallery’s new hours are yet to be determined but Corry said it would be ideal for it to be open Thursday through Saturday because those are busy times downtown. She also hopes to continue programs the gallery currently offers, like after school workshops, on a reduced basis.
Rowley said he supports the university’s decision and is looking at other possibilities for work in Moscow.
“It’s been a tremendous honor to come to a gallery that’s had the legacy it has. When I first started here I always would say this place has amazing bones. I meant not just the physical space but all the connections between community and campus. All those things are so unique and amazing here. It’s all of that that’s made it possible for me to do all the things I’ve been able to accomplish here. … People want to put it on me. It’s the entire ecosystem that allows something like this to flourish, so it’s sad to see it go. It’s been a great run.”