Smart Guy

Former Indianapolis Museum of Art director Anthony Hirschel found himself in a prickly spot last November. After he’d led the IMA through the final phase of a $220 million capital campaign and three years of construction that would more than double its space, he found relations between him and the museum’s board of directors had soured. “At a certain point it became clear to me–very suddenly–that I simply could no longer be effective,” Hirschel says. “I felt I had no choice but to resign.” At the time he told the Indianapolis Star only that he “no longer offered the best fit for the museum.” This week, after a flurry of house hunting in the Chicago area, he fleshed this out a little, saying that the “significant tension surrounding major building projects” has led to the departure of “any number of museum directors.” In June, Hirschel will step into a new job, as director of the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, where he’s set to oversee the most ambitious fund-raising campaign and expansion project in the museum’s history.

At first blush this coup for the Smart looks like a step down for Hirschel. At the Indianapolis museum–one of the largest in the country, with a 50,000-object collection, 152 acres of grounds, and a $20 million annual budget–he headed a staff of 260. At the Smart–launched just 30 years ago with a $1 million gift from the family foundation of Esquire magazine founder David Smart–he’ll have a collection of 7,000 objects and a staff of 15. But it’s a return to his area of expertise: before the IMA, Hirschel, who’d begun his career at the Yale University Art Gallery, headed Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum and the University of Virginia Art Museum. Word is he’s got the chops for the U. of C. and is likely to be comfortable with the administrative structure and more focused mission of a university museum. At the same time, the Smart has outgrown its beginnings as an art department adjunct and little sister to U. of C.’s more adventurous resident, the Renaissance Society. It claims to serve the city and region as much as the university, and aims to be a leader among museums in Chicago and university museums nationally. “The Smart Museum has enormous ambitions, intellectually and aesthetically,” Hirschel says. To realize them, he hopes to raise visibility, develop partnerships (locally and beyond), and add space to allow for more visitors, students, and exhibits.

The proposed Smart addition–which has not yet been officially approved and announced–would go up where the Young Memorial Building (housing campus security) now stands. It would include an auditorium, classrooms, and offices and add 50 percent more permanent exhibit space, plus four times as much space for special exhibitions. Hirschel estimates the capital campaign to pay for it will come in at around $30 million.

In spite of parallels to the situation he inherited in Indianapolis, Hirschel says he doesn’t anticipate the same problems. “In these situations everyone is exuberant about the expansion, but understanding how to sustain the level of interest and pay for the expanded operation over the long term” is where it gets dicey, he says. “One of the most important things is that everyone’s issues are on the table to start with. The [Smart] board, faculty, and administrators have already spent two years getting to a preliminary plan. They’ve argued over the questions about who they need to serve and how the program will develop. There is a very sound foundation,” he says. “Problems arise when, at the end of the project, people realize they had different ambitions and only some of those ambitions are going to be realized and somebody else says, ‘Well, after all I did? What happened to what I wanted?'”

The Smart is too smart for that, right?

City Lit’s Sugar Daddy

Director Terry McCabe, recently appointed City Lit Theater Company’s new artistic director, came with a surprise dowry. In the 80s McCabe–a champion of the playwright and the integrity of the script, for which he made a neat argument in his 2001 book Mis-Directing the Play–had brought the earliest work of writer John Logan to the stage. Back then McCabe headed Stormfield Theatre and Logan was writing stuff like Never the Sinner and Hauptmann. Logan moved on to a more financially rewarding career, doing scripts for high-profile films like Gladiator and The Aviator, but the two remained friends. When McCabe mentioned that he was considering the City Lit position though the theater was saddled with a $43,000 debt, Logan said, If you take the job I’ll write you a check. City Lit, which performs in a 99-seat space in the Edgewater Presbyterian Church, has also hired a business manager and is thinking it will expand beyond its classic plays and literary adaptations (the annual P.G. Wodehouse production is coming up this month) to do some new work.

Ten by Ten Hits Pause

Ten by Ten is looking like a zero these days. Earlier this month seven of its ten staffers were laid off, and publisher Margaret Malone, who bought into the design magazine last year, announced that future issues of the bimonthly would be suspended. “It takes a long time to grow advertising,” she says. After three issues under her auspices, “we were at the point where we knew we needed to get more funding.” Malone says she’s negotiating with a large out-of-town publisher who might be able to put things square again.

We’re Surprised You Read This Far

NEA chairman Dana Gioia stopped at the Harold Washington Library last week on a publishing industry-supported tour to talk about the NEA’s “Reading at Risk” report, based on 2002 data gathered by the Census Bureau. “It’s my pleasure this evening to depress you,” Gioia said. “Over the last 20 years the U.S. adult population grew by 40 million while the number of readers remained flat.” According to the report, less than half the population now reads literature, and the trend–especially in the last decade, with the proliferation of electronic media–is down. Gioia, who says Oprah understands the social context of reading better than Harold Bloom, faults universities for “making literature more remote, abstract, highfalutin, and pretentious than ever before. Now,” he says, “there are college graduates who proudly say they don’t read.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Drea.