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Sue Graze Resigns from the Arthouse, But Why–Really?

Sue Graze resigns as the Executive Director of the Arthouse to take-up post as Director Emeritus, effective October 14, a position that is hands-off in terms of the daily operations of the organization. Director Emeritus? Must be the board’s way of saying “thank you” for Sue’s twelve-year commitment to the Arthouse. And, unofficially, implies that her resignation occurred on friendly terms.

Given the upheaval at the Arthouse over the past year, or so, I am curious as to the circumstances surrounding Sue’s decision to leave—and, the extent to which the board gently nudged her in that direction.

As you may recall, had you been keeping up with Arthouse news, recently the non-profit terminated Elizabeth Dunbar’s position, and eliminated, not only Dunbar, but also the head curator position entirely. A move, in my opinion, to ensure that nothing like the upset surrounding Michelle Handelman’ video installation dealing with issues of queer sex occurs again. Moreover, ensuring that more programming power lie in the hands of the board. (For more information about events leading up to Dunbar’s termination read “Austin Contemporary on the Decline.”)

Handelman’s exhibition, and other mishaps, forced the Arthouse to scramble, dealing with angry artists, and upset community members. A panel discussion was hastily brought together to explain the importance of queer art in Texas (which obviously the Texas Commission on the Arts—one of Arthouse’s big funders—did not support). The Arthouse board, and parents of the Austin community were clearly offended by this exhibition, given the tone of the panel discussion. I feel that the Handelman incident is often glossed over when discussions of “What happened at the Arthouse?” are taken up.

Getting rid of the two “leading ladies” at the Arthouse certainly makes it look as if the organization is attempting to recover its reputation as a community organization, and cleaning house is the perfect way to do that. Further, I expect “safer” art programming at the Arthouse.  And, no I don’t find it coincidental that Sue is “stepping down” only nine months after all this occurred.

My above speculations will be easy enough to confirm as we watch the direction Arthouse takes post-Sue. The new challenge for the organization: how to appear edgy but actually be conservative; democratic while contemporary.

I emailed the curator of public programming to ask if there’s any word, as to who will take Sue’s place, to which she replied, “no word yet.”

As Bill Davenport of Glasstire mentioned in his article “Austin Art Implosion Continues: Arthouse Director Sue Graze Resigns as Executive Director to Assume Advisory Role,” I’m glad the Arthouse will retain the Director position. What we don’t need are a bunch of Texas arts organizations run solely by board members, as Sue obviously did an outstanding job at her post. Arthouse has grown in recognition in leaps and bounds—from a local entity to an internationally recognized art organization— under her charge.

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