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Art Center's refocus

Incoming head Lorne M. Buchman says expansion plans by the previous

July 10, 2009|Mike Boehm

About a year ago, Richard Koshalek was pushed from the presidency of Pasadena's Art Center College of Design after an eruption of resentment among students and alumni who said that he'd become too focused on building the small, elite institution's future -- and too removed from students' immediate needs.

Lorne M. Buchman, announced Wednesday as Art Center's next president, will take charge in October, bringing experience during the 1990s running a rival art and design school in the Bay Area -- and in raising money to build bigger and better facilities.

But as he circles back into educating artists after working as a consultant for charities and heading a San Francisco graduate school of psychology, the Shakespearean scholar says the issue isn't to build or not to build, but what kind of learning needs to happen.

"I've visited the south campus and think it's a spectacular achievement," Buchman said of Art Center's graduate and community-education facilities near Old Town Pasadena, planned and built during Koshalek's 10-year administration.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, July 13, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Art Center College of Design: In Friday's Calendar, an article about the new president of Pasadena's Art Center College of Design referred to the interim president, Frank Ellsworth, as "a former president of Pritzker College." It should have said Pitzer College.

"But," Buchman said, "the project has to be informed first and foremost by the educational mission. If [new] buildings are serving the mission, I'm interested in pursuing them. If it's the other way around, that's a recipe for chaos and dysfunction."

"We were looking for a proven leader, someone who had been president of a university or college, someone specifically who had been involved in art and design. Lorne filled the bill to the note," said Robert C. Davidson, the trustee who chaired Art Center's search committee.

Buchman, 51, earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto. He has been a Californian for 30 years, since arriving at Stanford, where he earned a doctorate in drama and humanities. He taught at UC Berkeley, chairing its theater department and writing a study of cinematic treatments of Shakespeare.

In 1992 he became provost of the California College of Arts and Crafts and was its president from 1994 to 1999. There, he shepherded the creation of a San Francisco campus. Next, he launched Buchman Associates, a consulting company that specializes in helping nonprofit groups raise money for building projects. Since 2006, he has been president of Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center in San Francisco, which teaches an approach known as humanistic psychology.

Buchman said he was glad to be returning to the arts after his foray into educating psychologists. "I learned new and different things and was eager to bring it back to an art and design school. My training and background is in the arts, and my heart is in design education."

He aims to start by trying to be "as efficacious a listener as I possibly can be. I need to understand the mission from the experience of the students and faculty," before deciding whether the frozen expansion plans should be revived.

An oft-voiced fear during last year's turbulence was that fundraising for expansion was competing with fundraising for scholarship money -- and that without more scholarships, the $128,000 in tuition and fees for an undergraduate fine arts degree would put Art Center beyond the reach of many.

Now the focus is on raising money for scholarships and operations, Davidson said. "The board has put all those [building] projects on hold. We are focused keenly on scholarships."

The events that ushered in new leadership at Art Center began with the sudden resignation in May 2008 of the school's chief academic officer, Nate Young. Students and alumni began an online petition protesting Koshalek's approach and challenging his priorities.

Koshalek had been hired in 1999 from his previous job as director of L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art, with a mandate to carry out an ambitious capital and fundraising campaign. But the board reversed course amid the protest. In September, Koshalek resigned; in April he was hired as director of the Smithsonian Institution's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Last fall, Art Center hired Frank Ellsworth, a former president of Pritzker College, as its interim president. Mike Rios-Belden, an Art Center student who heads the Show, an organization aimed at creating a sense of community on the commuters-only campus and more opportunities for students to display their work, said Ellsworth deserves credit for establishing closer ties with students, and for pushing a long-delayed remodeling of the cafeteria so that students now have a round-the-clock place to study and meet.

An Army veteran in his final term, Rios-Belden said he couldn't have attended without G.I. benefits and a substantial scholarship grant, and worries that doors could be closing for students like himself.

"I find it dismaying. I started at a school with tuition of $12,000 a term, and in a little over four years it ballooned to over $15,000 a term. My fear is it is going to become a school where it's not so much about the talent, as being able to afford to go."

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mike.boehm@latimes.com

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