Welcome back to Roger Mandle, the fifth Director of the Toledo Museum of Art, from 1977 to 1988. He spoke at the museum’s Little Theater on June 8. It was a wonderful talk, about working with Otto Wittmann, the 4th museum director of the museum, and then as the assistant director at the National Museum of Art in Washington, DC, and then as president of Rhode Island School of Design from 1993 to 2008, and then how he helped develop two new museums in Qatar. Now he is starting a new museum for art and technology in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
It was a great era when Mandle was at the Toledo Museum of Art, because the museum had meaningful art community involvement. The museum was built on meaningful art community involvement, in fact it was built by artists. Beginning in 1916, the museum offered grade school through high school classes, then university classes, and always adult art classes. Local artists had monthly shows at the museum. The museum hosted the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition (TAA). Who would have thought that the TAA Show would have been extinguished, just four years short of its 100th year celebration next year, what was the oldest, most venerable exhibition of its kind in the entire United States.
I benefited from the classes at the museum from age 9 to 21. I taught the first kids photography class that the museum offered, in 1979, with the darkroom right below the Peristyle stage. I exhibited in a few TAA shows, and in 2013, my daughter’s photography career received a huge boost, perhaps even a complete launch, as a result of her prize-winning entry in what was to become the final local Toledo Area Artists Exhibition. This year, four years later, my daughter is showing her photographs in Venice, Italy in a show at the European Cultural Center in the context of the 57th Venice Biennale.
My daughter spent the summer of 2006 at Rhode Island School of Design in a high school program, and that’s where she fell in love with photography. Because I knew Roger Mandle from the museum, we sent him the photos she shot that summer. He was sincerely impressed and without our even asking, sent her photos to the admissions department with a strong recommendation. To be encouraged by such a knowledgeable and important person so early on was a great formative experience.
Kids classes as well as adult classes have nearly disappeared at the Toledo Museum of Art. The local art community is no longer tied to the museum that the artist-forefathers of Toledo had so progressively formed. It used to be our museum and everybody understood that — it belonged to the community of Toledo — but today for the first time suddenly it is no longer our museum.
Today it’s all about the grants. A Mellon grant brought down the TAA show, along with a bamboozling by the museum to the Toledo artist community, as if our community artists would benefit by expanding our local art show 10-fold to 13 million people and a 300 mile diameter. At least it looked good on the grant application. That was three years ago, and it was the last show. Judged by Halona Norton-Westbrook, a Mellon Fellow employed at the museum, the eleven local artists who were accepted into the show happened to be closely associated with the museum (including two employees, the husband of an employee, a past employee, and two past presidents of the Federation.) Only two of the Toledoans were women.
Our current director, Brian Kennedy, tells people openly that Toledo artists are not good enough to show at the museum in any show, even our annual, 100-year old show that’s always been at the museum. So unbecoming of our museum, which had such a progressive, community oriented beginning!
Rejecting local artists is an elitist spin on Toledo’s communal inferiority complex and famously poor self-image. Museum supporters don’t care. They buy their art in New York. Thus, the ax has come down on this fine opportunity and tradition for artists in Toledo. Our deceased museum directors must be rolling in their graves.
It is a shame that the artist community that was once centered around the museum has disappeared and opportunities no longer exist at our most magnificent and inspiring cultural center, the Toledo Museum of Art, that was built by artists, educated artists, and for many years, was led by artists (including Roger Mandle.)
Roger Mandle and the museum directors who preceded him kept the local art community alive and well at the Toledo Museum of Art for more than eight decades. And while accommodating the community, they had blockbuster shows, bigger and better than we see today.
Brian Kennedy tells people that Toledo area artists aren’t good enough for the museum to continue hosting the annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, an important, century old tradition started by the museum with the Federation formed for that purpose. Leslie Adams, past president of the Federation, tells Toledo area artists to trust that with the change in the show, that the museum has their best interests at heart.
The museum gave Adams a one-person show in 2012 as a new Toledo Area Artists Exhibition award in 2011 (the first and only recipient of that award) and the museum even acquired three of her pieces in 2015.
You just have to wonder when they kill our show and profess that no local artist’s work can ever be good enough to show at the museum, but they buy Leslie Adam’s work.