Carnegie Museum of Art discontinues adult education classes

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Many adults who often take drawing, painting or ceramics classes at Carnegie Museum of Art are outraged by a decision to discontinue eight-week semester sessions when the current courses end in August.

Madelyn Roehrig, a 20-year employee who oversees the program, was told earlier this month that her job has been eliminated, said Jonathan Gaugler, a museum spokesman. Ms. Roehrig could not be reached for comment.

Joan Morse Gordon, who lives in Oakland, has often taken classes at the art museum, where she has been a docent for 25 years.

"My ability to communicate was enhanced by my hands-on experience," she said. "An art museum without classes is diminished in its significance to the community," she added.

The museum's spokesman, Jonathan Gaugler, said the museum is changing its approach to adult education.

"We are moving from a semester-based, fixed schedule of studio type programs to a system by which we do more of a menu of programming," he said.

The museum will offer workshops directly related to current exhibitions and the classes will have a social component.

Each year, about 400 people take classes at the museum, Mr. Gaugler said, adding that Marilyn Russell, the curator of education, will "figure out where the opportunities are that we really want to capitalize on."

Typically, students pay $240 for a semester of instruction.

"If we have a big print show and it makes sense, we could do a series of 10 workshops on mastering the technique, but only if it makes sense," Mr. Gaugler said. Eliminating the semester style programming frees Ms. Russell to identify those opportunities, he said.

The museum will continue its arts classes for children in grades 5 through 9, a program that nurtured Andy Warhola, who became the Pop artist Andy Warhol.

The museum's course offerings have evolved since 1981, Mr. Gaugler said.

Back then, classes included flower arranging, exercise and knitting. Then, the museum limited its offerings to art, science, music and literature. In the 1990s, the museum stopped offering instruction in metalwork, textiles and jewelry.

Jean Fleischauer, a retired school psychologist who lives in Oakland, began taking ceramics classes at the museum in 1993.

"I got really involved. My friend and I bought a kiln," Ms. Fleischauer said. She also introduced her granddaughter, Sarah Bastress, then a child, to working with clay. In the fall, Ms. Bastress, who lives in Morgantown, W.Va., will start a pre-master's program at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Janet Jourdan, a Ross woman who loves taking sculpture and ceramics classes, said they were the focal point of her week. "It's such a high being in the museum and creating," she said.

Carol Zisowitz, a Squirrel Hill psychiatrist and a regular museum student, said the new approach does not make sense.

"Artists need regular classes, not event-based occasional classes. The museum has always been hostile to the classes. The museum has always insisted that we spend a certain amount of time meandering through the collection. They have never let us do what most museums do -- take painting and charcoal upstairs into the galleries. To say that we are an art museum but we don't want to encourage Pittsburgh artists, to me, is just absurd."

In April, the museum was forced to find new space for finance and development employees formerly housed in an Oakland building at 4615 Forbes Ave., less than a block from the museum complex. The museum's lease in the building expired because in 2009, Carnegie Mellon University bought that building and three acres of land for $25 million.

The basement studio formerly used by painting students, plus the Discovery Room, are being turned into offices for the museum's fundraising and finance department employees. Both rooms are in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's basement, which is part of the Oakland complex made up of the museums of art, natural history, Carnegie Music Hall and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Gaugler said Ms. Russell has identified another, more flexible space and closer to the elevators and galleries. That space, he said, is larger than the basement studio with high ceilings, red marble pillars and a row of sinks that had been used for a variety of art classes.

If that new space becomes available, Mr. Gaugler said, "We will raise up the lights, build out sinks and build out more storage for supplies" and use it for occasional classes geared to specific exhibitions.

Donald E. Simpson, a visiting lecturer in the University of Pittsburgh's department of art and architecture and a nationally known comic book artist, has taught cartooning classes at the museum.

He believes the decision reflects the tension between an arts education philosophy that dominated American museums from the 1900s through the 1920s. The decision to eliminate art classes for adults, he said, reflects the "palace of culture idea," which is "art as treasures for the well-to-do and the elite to appreciate.

"In many cases, in recent years, these programs have lingered on out of some kind of inertia or as a way to cultivate membership" in the museum, he said, "but not to really aggressively educate the public as in years past, which is a shame."

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Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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