AMoA and Arthouse Merging: The Hardest Part

by Claire Ruud November 2, 2011

Think of a newlywed couple moving in together for the first time. Writing the prenup was hard and planning the wedding was an emotional rollercoaster, but the work of synchronizing the day-to-day, learning to make decisions together, sacrificing on one another’s behalf is practically Herculean. In the merger between Arthouse and AMoA, the prenup’s been written and the wedding planner’s been hired, and the most challenging and important work is yet to come.

The choice of the right director is probably at the top of everyone’s mind, and this is certainly a key to the success of the organization. However, it’s far too easy to hoist all the blame for past difficulties on the former directors and pin all our hopes on a future leader. The newly merged board, of course, also needs to critically reevaluate itself. A board is ultimately responsible for the financial oversight and ethical integrity of the organization it oversees, and in the case of both AMoA and Arthouse, it has, at the very least, allowed poor management decisions to occur. The new organization will be successful only if the board improves its function.

Regarding the future director of the new organization, his or her hardest job will be to unite the remaining staff from Arthouse and AMoA around a singular purpose and to build a shared culture around that mission. From my outsider’s perspective and in very crude terms, AMoA has been focused on attracting families with relatively traditional work, and Arthouse has been focused on attracting a young professional crowd with relatively contemporary work. AMoA has historically been a larger, more hierarchical organization, while Arthouse historically been a smaller, “flatter” organization. It will take time to rally staff from the two organizations around a single purpose and to create a shared culture around that purpose.

In short, the hardest work is yet to come.


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Bill Davenport November 2, 2011 - 08:49

Let’s all make suggestions during this golden moment of possibility:

1. Ditch the overdesigned Jones Center on Congress; it will make a great Urban Outfitters.

2. Ditch Laguna Gloria, too pretty to be contemporary.

Rainey Knudson November 2, 2011 - 08:59

The Jones Center has an enviable location but not great (and very small) exhibition space. The bizarre street level “gallery” with its overdesigned reception desk and staircase is a wasted opportunity. AMOHouse (ArtOA? Austin Museum in the HOUSE!!?) will ultimately need to find better gallery space if they want to be more than a little kunsthalle.

Katy Crocker November 3, 2011 - 11:48

3. Ditch contemporary art. Clothes and pretty things are more popular.

Chad Dawkins November 4, 2011 - 22:47

Second that. This “visual art thing” obviously doesn’t work as a business model for Austin. Sell the staircase to someone up in the hills and frack that precious floor. Oh, and donate Tony Feher’s water bottles to UT as samples of the last potable water. Too bad there is not a video for this fail…

Chad Dawkins November 4, 2011 - 22:52 Reply
Steve Brudniak November 7, 2011 - 13:49

hey its a (re)start… again, theres too many cooks in the kitchen but well see. san antonio is such a great model for an art scene, (cant we all just get along?) and similar to san antonios brewery SAMA museum, maybe well find a nice cool old block of buildings to convert into a museum space one day? better than scrapping another multi million dollar set of plans again due to aesthetic opinion differences. eventually marriages like this morph into a sort of new frankenstein being if they can stay together. one day we may become a real boy like pinocchio

Karen Lastre November 8, 2011 - 09:59

Laguna Gloria is a very split up space and kind of hard to find if you don’t know Austin. Used to love to go to the outdoor festivals there but was not up to the steep stairs inside.

Kimberli Gant November 9, 2011 - 10:47

Hi Clare,
I would like to talk to you further about the articles you have written over the course of the year about museum mergers and the relationship between the current economic situation and how that affects museum’s organizational structures and programs.

I am a PhD student in Art History at UT and come from a museum background. I also did a project examining the current demographics of museum staff in NY. Please email me if you get the chance

Marshall Harris November 14, 2011 - 11:55

I see this merger as a sort of an artistic gene splicing attempt somewhat akin to splicing the physicalities’s and psychologies of a cat and a dog. The outcome will not be a cat/dog. The cat people won’t be happy and the dog people certainly won’t either. The two facilities cater to completely different markets and thank goodness for that. Unfortunately, even as progressive as Austin is supposed to be, the financial resources required to support the arts are controlled by the cat people and the dog people either must learn how to meow, or find their own source of patronage and monetary support. It’s up to the new board of directors to establish a mission for both locations under quite possibly separate agendas. Otherwise no one will be happy. I personally like the Art-house facility. It says contemporary just by it’s architectural aesthetics. The “Over Designed desk” is similar to what Peter Zumthur might dream up. It speaks of high design and beauty of material and the staircase is an introduction to the upper levels. The exhibit spaces might be small but the facility wasn’t meant to be the MOMA. As for the AMoA, it is expected and safe and pedestrian as well it should be if it’s mission is to present family friendly fine art. But that is just addressing the physicality of a box to hold the exhibits. The art and artists that the two facilities showcase is the real conundrum. If you think a board could simply put both facilities missions into a blender and come up with something palatable for the overall arts community, well you know what they say about the camel, a horse designed by a committee.


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