The Astria Suparak firing: Up or down for West Fayette?
September 21, 2007 12:10AM
Posted by Sean Kirst
I had a few thoughts as I watched hundreds of art lovers Thursday night moving from The Delavan to The Red House to The Warehouse, along West Fayette Street.
I thought of how this would have been unimaginable 20 years ago, when The Warehouse was a warehouse and The Redhouse was a battered old tavern.
I thought of how incredible it would be, in this budding gallery district, if those chipped and battered railroad bridges were handed over to teams of artists as enormous examples of public art.
I thought of how much this district might achieve if this $56 million investment on the Near West Side comes to be.
And I thought of the irony of how this great burst of energy on a downtown street was potentially a form of a goodbye, touched off by the firing of a person hired with the mission of helping to generate that energy.
Astria Suparak, curator of The Warehouse Gallery, has been dismissed by the university. Jeffrey Hoone, the university official who dismissed her, said he is constrained from speaking publicly of the reasons, constraints that go with any personnel decision. In that void, angry members of the arts community contend that Suparak was let go for reasons from censorship to institutional jealousy at her success.
You can read many of those arguments in this blog, much of it assembled by Joanna Spitzner, an assistant professor at SU and one of those organizing support for Suparak.
I lead off the reader response with this note from Lonnie Chu, an instructor at SU and a community activist in Eastwood.
And I look forward to hearing your thoughts, one way or another, regarding West Fayette - and what happens after Suparak.
Posted by sean on 09/21/07 at 12:32AM
A note from Lonnie Chu of Eastwood, whose e-mail first alerted me to the breadth of the reaction to Suparak's firing:
I am outraged that Astria Suparak would be dismissed so suddenly and with so little transparency to the community. But I am not alone. I have been following with great interest the incredible number of letters of support, heartfelt and well written, that have been appearing on the Syracuse Warehouse blog
(http://syracuse-warehouse.blogspot.com/) They come from not only Syracuse, but from other cities, other states, even other countries.
Astria is a treasure that the city and the university need to support and nurture, for she is a one-woman Connective Corridor, making art fun, accessible, perhaps troubling, but always exciting.
There have been a number of themes expressed by those writing in. I'd like to summarize some of them here.
- Astria is a curator of international renown and unimpeachable professionalism. Letters of support have come in from students, professors at Syracuse University, and other places such as New York, Troy, Toronto, Montreal and Texas A&M University. She is highlighted in FlashArtonline.com "The World's Leading Art Magazine":
Syracuse Arts Community Unwilling to Let Dismissed Curator Go.
- Astria is a magnet that has attracted people to live in the city and artists to do shows here. In fact, "The Yes Men" agreed to come here because of Astria and have thus canceled their November exhibit because of her dismissal. It is not the Warehouse, it is Astria in the Warehouse that is attracting these artists. Without her, they don't want to be here. We can look forward to an exodus of those who came because of the excitement her work has generated and we can go back to getting used to being known as a "loser city."
- Astria has the skill and takes the time to build relationships with community members, organizations and businesses. She's been active in the downtown TNT and she and her visiting artists use the services and products of local vendors.
- The Warehouse Gallery does not just happen. It takes vision and connections like Astria's to make all of this happen. If she is made to leave, all of her work stops. Relationships will have been severed, trust will have been betrayed. Once that happens, it's very hard to start it up again. To paraphrase one writer, if you dynamite this span in the bridge that is the Connective Corridor, the whole thing can collapse. Astria's work has inspired hope in city residents. Take that away, and much of the progress we've been making can reverse itself.
- The timing of this dismissal does not bode well. Just when the most recent show, "COME ON: Desire Under The Female Gaze" is opening, and just when The Yes Men are about to come to town, Astria is suddenly fired. As one writer pointed out, it is very ironic that we learn of her dismissal on the same day as the Newhouse III dedication. Emblazoned on the outside wall of that building are the words of the First Amendment of the Constitution that protect freedom of speech. Yet Astria was made to change the original title for "COME ON" - apparently a "feminist gaze" was not acceptable. Now the appearance is that the entire theme is unacceptable. This may not be the case, but the impression it gives the outside world is seriously detrimental to Syracuse.
Caroline Szozda, Gallery Manager of the Delavan Art Gallery, expresses eloquently why Astria's dismissal is such a loss to Syracuse:
"Since opening in 2006, through Astria, the Warehouse Gallery has helped become a cornerstone of the area art scene going well beyond just the visual arts. In a very short period of time, it has gained a solid following from the students, artists and the community at large. She has been able to put together exciting, interesting events and exhibitions that most people would never suspect would/could happen in Syracuse. Through her work, she has helped enrich, rejuvenate and energize the people and community around her."
It is not too late to reinstate her. Syracuse does not have to be the loser any more.Lonnie Chu