Hartz gets bigger, better museum job

Jill Hartz, the ousted UVA University Art Museum director who was unceremoniously dumped in December from the job she'd held for 11 years, has been hired as executive director of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

"It's an opportunity to direct a museum at the next level," says Hartz. "It's a step up in terms of what the museum has to offerР23,000 square feet versus 6,000." The Schnitzer boasts a bigger budget and staff, as well as a caf̩, museum shop, and dedicated meeting room.

The Oregon museum has broad Asian and contemporary collections. "In the Asian art area, in particular, they want to bring their collection into the present with contemporary acquisitions and exhibitions," says Hartz. "They want someone to move the museum forward. This is perfect for me. I like the challenge of strengthening the program and building a national reputation."

Hartz came to UVA in 1994 as a trail-along spouse when her husband, Richard Herskowitz, was named program director of the Virginia Film Festival. They moved from Ithaca, New York, where she had been the exhibitions coordinator and director of public relations and publications at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell.

"This time she's going first," says Herskowitz, whose own future is hazier. He vows to lead the film fest in October, and says it's possible for him to maintain a role in the festival. But he's interviewing in Eugene in a few weeks. "Our intention is to live in the same town," he says.

Hartz's dismissal from the University Art Museum– shortly after Elizabeth Hutton Turner was named to the new position of vice provost for arts– sent ripples of dismay through the local art community. Sources confirm that at least two museum board members resigned, and in January more than 30 aggrieved artists signed a letter to UVA President John Casteen expressing their support for Hartz.

"It was not a popular decision with the arts community," says Hook art critic Laura Parsons. "The university has not been forthcoming about why she was let go. It causes a lot of unrest when someone you've known and respected is given the heave-ho. It can make you feel insecure."

Before Hartz's arrival, the image of the Bayly, as it was then known, was fusty. Parsons remembers when she was in school here in the mid-1980s, "The museum was boring. Nothing ever changed."

When Parsons returned to Charlottesville in 2000, she was struck by the "Hindsight/Foresight" exhibit that featured a figure with dress blowing in the wind atop the Coal Tower. "I was impressed," she says. "I felt like the museum had a new life."

The exhibitions Hartz brought in or encouraged her staff to curate addressed contemporary questions of politics, identity, legacy, and popular culture, says Parsons. "They were often edgy– like the 'Whiteness' show a few years ago. Under Jill's direction, the museum became a place that actively encouraged people to view art as a means for exploring crucial social issues."

"She was forward-thinking," says Lyn Warren, owner of Les Yeux du Monde. "She brought top-caliber, internationally known artists. She was great at collaborating with other venues. She wanted art throughout the city. And she was great at getting support."

Warren finds the possibility that Herskowitz will no longer lead the film festival "very sad," she says. "He brought big names here, just like she did. The enthusiasm they both had about art was contagious."

Says former University Art Museum Board member Marc Lipson, "I think this new job at a major university is a tremendous testament to what a great director Jill Hartz is and always has been."
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3 comments

Excellent! UVA's loss, not hers!

Good luck to her!

I love how people pretend to miss someone with a hohum career. The visual arts in Charlottesville has always been driven by downtown, people like Warren not UVa. I suspect Jill knows why she was let go but won"t say

edgy,top-caliber, internationally known artists? Really?

I will say that the arts improved @ UVA while Hartz was here but this article is written with some rose colored glasses indeed. Les Yeux du Monde, 2nd street and McGuffy have been the center of the visual arts for me not UVa.