By Sarah Porter
The future of the Viking Union Gallery is uncertain. While the gallery is not being decommissioned, it will be homeless starting in March until members of the Associated Students, the VU and other Western faculty make some decisions.
Lack of communication between the art and art history department, the AS and the VU has resulted in confusion regarding the gallery’s future. Associated Student’s VU Gallery Director Josephene Butcher said long term plans haven’t been decided yet.
Concerned art students, staff and faculty started a petition against closing the student-run VU Gallery, which has now been signed by almost 700 people. Petition organizers thought the gallery would be decommissioned because of the Ethnic Student Center expansion, which The Western Front reported was inaccurate in January.
“I was really sad to hear what the petition said,” said Lee Paluzzi, a Western alumni who studied graphic design and signed the petition. “It was an important place for me when I was a student there.”
The gallery space will be closed in late March due to construction of the Ethnic Student Center expansion and the new Multicultural Center, Forest Payne, the project manager, said. The gallery has to be moved somewhere else on campus until construction is done in 2019, but a location has not been decided on, Butcher said.
Butcher said she had been given a variety of answers to when the gallery space would close. Over the summer, she was told that the space would close mid-winter quarter, and she was later told it would be open all year. Last December, plans changed and she was told it would be closed spring quarter, she said in an email.
“It just makes me so sad and angry that I get all this money for programming while people I know struggle to put on events.”
Josephine Butcher, VU Gallery Director
Art faculty thought the VU Gallery space would be open until next academic year rather than closing this March, Julia Sapin, chair of the art and art history department, said. Sapin said there has been a lack of transparency throughout this project.
Members of the art department were not informed of the gallery space closing until a meeting with VU members on Jan. 18, which has the department worried about events planned with the gallery for spring quarter, Sapin said.
For example, there are plans to collaborate using the gallery space with Allan deSouza, an art professor at UC Berkeley. Sapin said that the unexpected lack of designated space for the gallery during spring quarter makes Western look unorganized.
“It doesn’t look good,” Sapin said.
With the Associated Student budget at a deficit this year and the gallery lacking a permanent space for programs, the gallery could be vulnerable to budget cuts, Alexander LaVallee, the AS vice president for business and operations, said.
Butcher already plans to ask for less money for gallery programming next year. Program budgets for the gallery and other things run by the AS come from the AS budget, which allocates money based on budget requests from each program.
Butcher said that she won’t need as much money next year, and that left over funds could be put to better use.
“It just makes me so sad and angry that I get all this money for programming while people I know struggle to put on events,” Butcher said.
There is talk of using leftover gallery program funds to pay for renovations to the other student-run gallery, called the B Gallery, located in the Fine Arts building, Butcher said.
She also clarified that VU Gallery money will not be used to fund to Ethnic Student Center expansion, which was what petition organizers thought was the case.
“We would like to stress that in no way do we wish to subvert plans to expand the Ethnic Student Center. However, we believe that decommissioning the VU Gallery in order to fund the Ethnic Student Center undermines the University’s policy to increase diversity. Supporting both the arts and inclusivity on WWU’s campus is not a zero-sum game,” the petition organizers wrote.
The expansion of the Ethnic Student Center and new Multicultural Center is funded by a $30 quarterly fee (which students voted for), institutional funds and VU bonds according to the FAQs.
The VU Gallery program budget for this academic year was $7,255, and LaVallee estimates that wages for gallery workers are probably a combined $13,000 or less. Compared to the total AS budget, which was about $2.7 million this year, the cost of the gallery isn’t significant.
“It’s astronomically small,” LaVallee said.
The Ethnic Student Center programming budget is similarly small at $8,650, according to the AS budget.
After completion, the Ethnic Student Center will be five times larger, according to the website. The seventh floor of the VU will extend over the main entrance to create an additional floor above the bookstore.
The project also adds three new offices for the AS-funded Womxn’s Identity Resource Center, Queer Resource Center and Disability Outreach Center.
In the future, the gallery could be given a space on the sixth floor of the VU where it used to be, said Butcher. Sapin supports this idea, but there are still no solid plans for future locations.