Monday, September 17, 2007

Kathy High

September 15, 2007

Dear Jeff Hoone, Nancy Cantor, Eric Spina and Carole Brzozowski,
I am writing on behalf of Astria Suparak and the future of the Warehouse Gallery. I am dismayed to hear of the news that Astria is being let go and that the upcoming exhibition of the Yes Men is cancelled.

I am not sure that I understand the nature of Astria's dismissal. I have known her professionally for the last six years. We have invited her to RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) and to Troy on three different occasions for video presentations and more. Last year the Arts department invited Astria to be one of two visiting outside critics for our MFA students' review. This is a position we offer only to curators, artists and scholars whom we admire and trust to give honest and responsible feedback to the students. She did a great job advising students and assessing their works, and conducted herself completely professionally.
I visited the Warehouse Gallery this summer and saw the installation of the Networked Nature exhibition – which I quite liked. Astria and I discussed her plans for the upcoming year and we spoke of future collaborations between our institutions. I have admired her choices for shows thus far and was delighted to see her progress. She seemed to be taking her job extremely seriously, offering the community of Syracuse (and beyond) an opportunity to engage in the best of contemporary art practices. Everyone I spoke with was surprised Astria had moved to Syracuse initially, but we were delighted to have her as part of the upstate community and to have her oversee the Warehouse's curatorial mission. It seemed like a great gift to the entire community!

Astria's energy and commitment has been evident to me for years. When she toured her DIY video collections, she was extremely responsible to the artists who participated by posting all the press and comments she received while on tour with the work. She was also responsible to the audiences walking them through the different artists' conceptual approaches with the use of humor and a kind of unassuming "smarts." She is socially conscious and driven to make contemporary art work assessable – a rare trait in someone her age. I witnessed her presenting her video compilations on two different occasions in Troy, once at RPI and once through RPI at the Sanctuary for Independent Media. I also participated in yet another video tour showing my own video work – so I understand first hand how Astria "treats" artists. Participating in this tour was one of the most interesting projects for me as I actually "heard" from my audiences through Astria's postings. It was a real contribution to my understanding of my work.

I have been a resident of NY State for the last thirty-five years. During that period I have split my time between upstate and NYC. I attended Colgate University for my undergraduate work, and was influenced by the video art programming of David Ross and then Richard Simmons at the Everson Museum in Syracuse. Seeing this work at the time was life altering for me, as I ultimately attended graduate school in experimental film and video, a career I am committed to through to the present. I see Astria's programming at the Warehouse Gallery in Syracuse a similar project that could influence numerous young students throughout the region to make a commitment to a career in the arts.

Currently I am the Head of the Arts Department at RPI. I am actively engaged in curating through our iEAR Presents series, the BioArts Initiative exhibition program, the Sanctuary for Independent Media and more. I understand the kinds of coalitions that are needed in upstate NY to allow for works to travel and circulate between institutions – as budgets dwindle and are exhausted. Our collaboration with Warehouse Gallery would allow for a kind of arts circulation that is essential to the upstate area. Also, academic universities need public venues that challenge our expectations and extend our classroom teaching practices. With Astria's leadership, the Warehouse Gallery presented just such a project.

I must also mention, that the cancellation of the Yes Men exhibition upsets me personally as one of the Yes Men team is a member of the RPI Arts faculty. Exhibitions (such as the Yes Men) are one way to really build alliances between university centers and departments and to support faculty's art practices. The sudden cancellation of this exhibition is both insulting and appalling both to the participants, and to professional arts faculty throughout the State.
Please understand that Astria Suparak has a large public following and many supporters. Please make your decisions transparent as it is important for us all to know why you have made this decision which at this point appears gratuitous, irresponsible and impulsive. I do not support your decision and am wondering why such a positive addition to the Syracuse and upstate community has been so blatantly dismissed and mistreated.
I await further information about the situation from you all. Thank you.
Sincerely,

Kathy High, Head/ Arts Department

cc: Dean John Harrington, Humanities and Social Sciences/RPI,
Igor Vamos, Associate Professor RPI/Arts

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BACKGROUND

Syracuse has lost one its greatest assets. Astria Suparak, Inaugural Director of The Warehouse Gallery of Syracuse University, was removed from her position as of Sept. 30th, 2007, despite widespread support from community members, students, faculty, and the international art community. This decision was made unilaterally by Jeffrey Hoone, Executive Director of the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers (CMAC).

At the time of Suparak's dismissal, Hoone also canceled her forthcoming exhibitions, including "Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men," due to open in November 2007.