UT Dallas may be best known for engineering and computer science. These days, it’s gaining a lot of attention for its art acquisitions.
The Barrett Collection of Swiss art, and the Crow Collection of Asian art have both been donated to the University. For State of the Arts this week, I sat down with Hobson Wildenthal, Executive Vice President of UT Dallas, and Amy Hofland, Executive Director of the Crow Museum of Asian Art, to talk about the two new museums that will house the works.
You can click above listen to the version of this conversation that aired on KERA FM. Or read longer excerpts below. This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
These are both extraordinary family collections, each built by a couple passionate about a particular kind of art. Yet it’s a really big responsibility and money, resources, and time for the university to assume custody of that. Why do it?
HWWe think it’s in our enlightened self-interest to build our reputation as a major university with all the appurtenances, including art museums. As outreach, as public service, as a demonstration of our dedication to the heritage to human kind. So, it’s, in our view, in our interest to show that we are concerned about the soul of human beings, their history, their art.
UTD has had a highly regarded arts and technology school for more than a decade. And then a few years ago, you created a new institute of art history. And now there are plans for these two new museums. These are very big stakes in the ground. What’s the vision for arts at UTD?
HW Our vision for the arts are to continue building the University of Texas at Dallas into a full-fledged, major comprehensive university. Not just a school of technology. We also want to bring in the public. Our local public, but also visitors of Dallas, who will find the University of Texas at Dallas not just even a detour but a destination.
Also in the last several years, UTD has closed an artist residency in downtown Dallas and demolished the art barn, which was a storied art studio on campus. With these moves, and the new museums, and the institute of art history, is the university focusing more on the study of art and less on developing artists?
HW No, I think they were not correlated events. The art barn was a safety hazard, and occupying prime space. So, progress really demanded that we make better use of our, by now, not abundant space. We used to say we have infinite space. Now, we’re really crowded. The closure of the CentralTrak was more a matter of landlord issues. So, uncorrelated. We’re just fortunate [to receive major gifts for the Art History Institute, the Crow Collection and the Barrett Collection.] We are amplifying, enhancing, art history but not any sense diminishing the teaching of art.
UTD is also taking over the Crow Museum of Asian Art in the Dallas Arts District. And Amy, you’ve been with the Crow for 20 years. Now you’re going to be running two spaces. Obviously, you’re going to have more room to display the Crow collection. What other benefits come with this new location in Richardson?
AH What we’re doing here is combining resources for a greater good. Nothing is more sustainable than a university and university system. And we’re also incredibly attracted to what can happen with 24,000 students right at our front door. So, I think there’s a lot of potential for greater research for the collections, greater engagement, and giving the communities both in the university and around UT Dallas a sense of belonging.
Have you had difficulty in the past attracting an Asian audience to the Asian art museum, and will your new location help you with that?
AH I think it will, tremendously. When we opened, we declared that we wanted to be a museum without walls and really a home for Asian-American communities and North Texas to find their heritage. And distance is a factor. We do see thousands of people come come down for Chinese New Year, and families might come for one family-day. But if we really want to create multiple moments of engagement, we recognize we needed to be farther north. And the opportunity to be in Richardson, which is surrounded by many of the communities where Asian-Americans live, just seem perfect. We thought of it as a satellite, but I think it will be the mother ship.
We thought of it as a satellite, but I think it will be the mother ship.
How will the Crow Museum in the Dallas Arts District relate to the new museum in Richardson? Will the arts district location be a satellite to the larger museum?
AH I think it will feel that way just because of scale. I believe the one on campus will be bigger, but my goal for this project is that if you stepped in both spaces you would feel like you’re in the same museum. So one museum, two locations, with a high caliber commitment for exhibitions and bringing the best, most innovative programs to both spaces.
And are you committed to keeping that satellite location in the arts district, or is there a chance that UTD would use that location for another purpose or even shutter it?
HW Quite honestly, the Flora Street site is a primary benefit of our acquisition of the Crow. And we will keep it as long as we can. Being downtown in the arts district, as a partner of the DMA, the Symphony, the Nasher, and the Opera, is huge for us.
The Flora Street site is a primary benefit of our acquisition of the Crow.
HW Well, it’s got this somewhat strange label, “Swiss Art.” It’s really a three-century collection of European art, which incidentally happens to have a tie to Switzerland. So, it’s a fantastic resource for an art history program. It’s canonical Western art. And to compare it now with Asian art- we basically got two big legs of a tripod. So, it’s Swiss art, but it’s really a compendium of modern Western art from the last three centuries.
And will the university look to acquire other collections?
HW We hope to establish a reputation and a site that will prompt people to think about where their family treasures they’ve accumulated might be perpetuated, as with the Crow.
So, we hope to get that message across. That we are interested in art and will be good custodians and promoters of art. And, so yes, we aren’t going to go out and buy it, but we want to show the world that this is a great place to perpetuate treasures.
The Crow Collection also donated 23 million dollars to UTD, and 20 million of that is earmarked to build the new museum. There’s going to be a campaign to raise another 20 million dollars for the Barrett collection. All told, how are you going to pay for it?
HW It was the key breakthrough, the gift from the Crow family. The trust that we established will cover the basic costs of [building] the Crow Museum. And we are in the process of generating funds of comparable magnitude to do the Barrett Museum. But the answer is we will build as great a complex as we can raise the money for.
Right now, from the funds available from the Crow and already raised for the Barrett, we will have an excellent complex. We have many other dreams. The site will accommodate a lot.
Do you have a target dollar amount for how much you want to raise?
HW Some of us think very, very big. But I am dedicated we get the two museums in 5 years, and that’ll be 40-50 million dollars right there. [Raise more] and we’ll go bigger.
The 23 million dollar gift from the Crow Collection, is that the museum’s endowment? Was that being used to generate investment income to run the museum?
HW The best of my understanding the Crow family established a trust to benefit the museum, and that was an element of the museum’s annual funding. And the University’s agreement with the Crow family was that we would start providing the annual support and use the money from the trust fund that will ultimately get transferred to build the second museum.
The Crow Collection provides considerable education services to school children, and at UTD, you’re focused of course on college students. Will you continue to have services for younger kids in Dallas?
AH We will. The school tours will continue in the vibrant way we’ve been doing it all these years. And, I think in the near future, we can begin to offer teaching opportunities in gallery museum experiences and teaching opportunities to students at UT Dallas. They have a requirement for service hours, and we anticipate training them in the methodologies that we use. So, yes, we will continue to offer the school tours.
HW The University of Texas Dallas have major programs for schoolchildren-grade school, middle school, and high school- a whole office of minors on campus. And given we are going to be very accessible, good parking, I would guess that once our campus museum is built, it will have more traffic of school students than Flora Street.
It’s not that we are only about our students. We do public service and public outreach. [We hope that] students end up coming to UT Dallas just because they visited the museum and got inspired.
I would guess that once our campus museum is built, it will have more traffic of school students than Flora Street.