[ original posting here.
The Daily Orange September 19 2007]
Art Directors Firing Stuns Syracuse
The sudden firing of The Warehouse Gallery's director left many in the Syracuse University community shocked and dismayed.
For most, including the dismissed director, Astria Suparak, the decision was mysterious and unexpected.
"I haven't talked to one person who wasn't shocked and appalled," said Allison Fox, a College of Visual and Performing Arts graduate student.
Recent SU graduate and former intern at the gallery Katie Skelly called the decision "unthinkable. … I really can't imagine what she could have done to make them fire her."
Jeffrey Hoone, executive director of the Coalition of Museums and Art Centers, took responsibility for Suparak's firing.
"Nobody else made this decision for me," Hoone said. "I made this decision in consultation with the human resources department."
Suparak, who has worked as curator and director of the gallery since June 2006, was given notice this past week. Since then, e-mails have been flying back and forth among faculty, students, artists and curators from all across the country trying to figure out what Hoone's reasoning could be.
The future of an upcoming exhibit by The Yes Men, a group of activists, has been in question since the announcement of Suparak's termination.
The Warehouse Gallery Web site stated that the exhibit had been canceled. This provoked a public outcry, especially from professors who had invested in it financially and had already incorporated the exhibit into their curriculum.
Hoone announced that he plans to work to keep the exhibit on the schedule and that he never canceled it in the first place.
Suparak, however, believes otherwise.
"He definitely told me it was canceled, and I asked very specifically," Suparak said.
Either way, there is a question whether The Yes Men will even do the show anymore without Suparak as director.
"I don't think they're going to come here without Astria," says Joanna Spitzner, a professor in the Foundation program at VPA. Hoone "hasn't developed that relationship with them."
"This is a bad decision that's really going to have serious implications for the future of the city's cultural life and spirit," said Tom Sherman, a professor of video and media theory.
Sherman said the firing has more to do with the current exhibit, "COME ON: Desire Under the Female Gaze," than The Yes Men. He said the original title of the current show contained the word "feminist," and Hoone demanded it be censored out.
Suparak agreed that Hoone did not want the word in the title of the exhibit. She said she had to change the title two additional times because Hoone didn't like the revised title.
Hoone denied that there was any controversy surrounding the exhibit.
An informational postcard about the exhibit was withdrawn from the prepared packages for first-year students at the last minute. The decision to do so was made by members of the Chancellor's Cabinet and Office of Public Affairs.
Suparak said she was surprised by this action because the design had been specifically approved for the packages.
The question of why Suparak was fired has still not been directly answered.
"I was not given a reason when I was fired," Suparak said. "He told me that he had high standards, and this was really confusing to me because I really feel like I've done a lot with my time here."
Hoone said legally there are things he cannot disclose. When asked to be more specific about Suparak's shortcomings to justify his decision, he began discussing window displays.
"This is personnel change," Hoone said, "in order to get the best mix of people and resources together to do that."
Supporters in Syracuse and across the country have mobilized in support of Suparak. A letter-writing campaign started at www.syracuse-warehouse.blogspot.com.
Suparak's supporters said she has fulfilled the gallery's mission beyond expectations. VPA professor Spitzner said Suparak has an "ability to connect with really interesting artists."
n fact, some have moved to the Syracuse area because of their desire to work with Suparak.
"I was looking for a job already, but meeting her really convinced me to take the job at Syracuse," said Frank Olive, assistant director at The Warehouse Gallery
Students also said she was doing a great job in enriching their experiences.
"She's definitely making this place younger, hipper, which we need desperately," said Stephanie Koenig, a VPA graduate student.
The blog, which was created in response to her firing, has an outpouring of support from the community. Many posts have mentioned surprise that Chancellor Nancy Cantor has not come out in support of Suparak.
Jan Pottie, a personal friend of Suparak's, said Suparak is very involved with committees having to do with Syracuse's art community such as the Public Arts Task Force and the Public Arts Commission.
Those supporting Suparak said her dedication and involvement in bridging the gap between the university and the downtown community runs parallel to Cantor's own vision of the Connective Corridor.
"Astria is organized, conscientious and precise," Pottie said. "But what really sets her apart is that she treats every exhibition as a work of art in and of itself, often adding elements of her own to enhance the experience of the audience."
"Imagine Syracuse actually has a good football team for once, and we have a really good coach, and then suddenly that coach is fired," gallery intern Skelly said.
"Clearly what The Warehouse Gallery has been to this community has been very active and dynamic and valuable and that is completely recognized," Ann Clarke, VPA associate dean, said.
The overwhelming support for Suparak has not made Hoone doubt his decision, however unpopular.
"I feel very confident in the decision," he said.
Suparak, on the other hand, is devastated by the decision.
"I had been working on the next two years of programming, and that was very exciting for me," she said. "It's too bad that everything's been canceled by what seems to be the position of one person."