Newly promoted Executive Director dishes on details of UICA + KCAD merger

UICA + KCAD + FSU Merger Event

Photo courtesy of the UICA

by Tori Pelz

This article is informed by two separate interviews with Miranda Krajniak, one given before the merger was made public, and then one following the news.

“So, you wanna talk about the merger?”

Visibly relaxed compared to the poised and press-release prepped executive we saw at Friday’s announcement, Miranda Krajniak sat down with me in her first interview since the big news.

It’s no wonder she can breathe easier. Since Friday, she’s gotten a nice little promotion and has been assured that the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art’s formidable $3.8 million debt will be secured.

“I was so ready for this double agent stuff to be over,” Krajniak sighed. At times, she explains, she and Kendall College of Art and Design staff involved in the merger had to pretend not to recognize each other. For six months, they protected this sensitive information from their staff. Before the marriage could be official, plenty of legal details involving land contracts, attorney general approval, and asset consolidation had to be secured. Not to mention obtaining firm pledges from key donors. On Friday, after an official vote by the Board of Directors, the deal was signed into agreement. A deal that traded her interim title for Executive Director.

“After the signing, I just cried,” Krajniak recounts. “There were so many times along the way that I thought we would just lose [the agreement]. It just took one major trip.”

The precarious terrain of a merger is not unfamiliar territory for Krajniak who navigated two institutional mergers—one during her stint as Manager of Education and Exhibitions at Saugutuck Center for the Arts when they absorbed the Mason Street Theater and another as a student worker during the KCAD/Ferris State University merger. To her critics concerned about her lack of development experience, this hire perhaps makes a bit more sense.

Friday’s announcement hinted at some pretty major changes for both institutions but remained slim on details. Krajniak sheds light on some of the specifics of the merger and its impact on the future of both institutions.

Perhaps on everyone’s mind, how has the UICA’s financial picture changed? (In the press release, Gary Granger, FSU’s Board President acknowledged that the college would be initially committing $1 million to the UICA.)

That initial one million, Krajniak explains, will pay off an accumulation of short-term bills. Creditors gave UICA significant leeway during the merger conversations, but now it’s time to settle up. And the rest of the $2.8 million deficit?

“That’s where our key donors come in,” Krajniak smiles. A small group of dedicated donors, many of whom wish to remain anonymous, pledged to pay off the rest of the debt within five years. “We’re walking into the black for the first time in– forever?” Krajniak adds.

Does that mean some the mantle of development and fundraising has been lifted from you?

Not in the short term, Krajniak indicates. However, the UICA has plans to hire a development person in next 6 months. “We’ve already moved forward with a membership person. She’s an incredibly talented young woman. A real spit fire. We’ll have our first meeting tomorrow.”

New staff hires are significant moves for the UICA, whose staff was reduced from 22 to just 11 these past few months. Of course, this slim down, which includes the recent departure of their Operations Director, is more understandable now with the promised operational support from new partner, KCAD.

So how have UICA staff roles changed? What does KCAD’s pledged operational support look like?

First, UICA staff are now employees of KCAD. For full time staff, these perks now include health insurance and tuition waivers at KCAD and FSU.

In terms of staff support, KCAD will be providing an in-house graphic designer for UICA as well as a janitorial staff and PR and marketing assistance. Some staff roles will be split 50/50 between institutions. For example, Krajniak notes that employee Brandon Belote who has been serving as their projectionist “has a real talent for video production… so we’re shifting him into more of a technician/videographer role”—a position that will serve both institutions.

Additionally, there will be an increase in federally-funded work-study interns from KCAD who will fill in support roles, like curatorial and preparatory assistants and projectionists.

Will there be overlap between the curatorial roles between institutions?

“We still have autonomy,” Krajniak explains. If our show is too provocative, will they shut it down? The answer is no…It’s up to AJ [Paschka] and Michelle [Bosak] to work that out. I don’t want to impose treaties on them.”

The two curators have been collaborating on a show that comes on the heels of ArtPrize, “Pulse/Pulso,” which showcases Latin American artists from Chicago and California. “Ours is a more contemporary approach. [KCAD’s] is a little more traditional,” Krajniak describes.

What other structural and programming changes will we see?

Currently, there is no Education Director. Krajniak explains this decision: “In my world view, everybody is education.” According to her, at an educational institute with a small staff, everyone should share that responsibility. Compartmentalizing something so central to their mission means that it becomes important only to select staff.

As of now, Saturday family days are cancelled. She adds, “There’s no reason to compete with [Grand Rapids Museum of Art],” who runs very well-attended Saturday Family Days program. She hints at the possibility of family movies but indicates a heavy shift towards adults programming.

Also, the volunteer-based curatorial board previously charged with organizing shows has since been disbanded. When asked what hiring a curator in their stead signified, Krajniak stated, “It means we’re growing up.”

The Penny Stamps Lectures, a collaboration with the University of Michigan will continue, Krajniak says, “as far as I know.”

Can you speak to the building changes mentioned Friday?

While Krajniak envisions the UICA being a power house of internationally acclaimed artists, she realizes that before the UICA can show at that level, basic facility requirements need to be addressed. At the top of this list is security cameras, followed by updating the HVAC and lighting. The staff is currently building drywall walls, making hanging work more manageable.

Regarding the ceramic studio, Krajniak commented, “That space is in flux… The ceramics studio is problematic because it would be repeating a program [currently offered at KCAD]. We need to spend time looking into assets of that space… We’ll continue the [ceramic adult classes] until we decide on what our focus on adult classes should be… Or who’s doing teaching those classes. Is it Kendall’s Continuing Studies? Is it a Masters in Education student who teaches the classes?”

In a particularly exciting move, Kendall will purchase the storefront space on Division to use as a studio/classroom space for its fashion and soon-to-be Masters in Architecture program.

How do you plan on balancing the new emphasis of being more accessible and family friendly with maintaining the integrity of showing challenging contemporary art?

“I think that has a lot less to do with what you show then how you talk about what you show.”

 How do you create those opportunities for conversation?

“Communicating and being friendly starts the minute you walk in the building…When you walk in the door, do you know where to go? Signage and way-finding is sooo important. If you have a sign that says, ‘We’re so happy you’re here,’ that communicates a lot.” She added that Paschka, who was heavily involved with visitor at the Grand Rapids Museum of Art experience will greatly contribute to creating this type of environment.

She then conveyed the possibilities of having artist panels, utilizing TVs for artist interviews, or including artist quotes on the wall.

“We don’t have to prove how smart we are,” she added. “No smarty pants PhD panels.”

Krajniak indicated that with the increased programming budget, there would likely be more funds available to bring in more renowned artists as speakers and one day, to show.

What’s your dream artist to show at the UICA?

Yinka Shonibare. Yinka Shonibare is a-mazing! First of all, he’s black. And he’s disabled.” Describing his work, she says, “It’s historical. It’s contemporary. It fills a space. It gives you a feeling. But you also know it’s also about imperialism and art history.”

So, what does the transition look like this week?

“The struggle’s just beginning for the staff… There’s been no consistency in leadership, structure, feedback.” One goal during this transition, she says, will be getting the staff  “comfortable with consistency.”

“Then again,” she adds, “we’re a contemporary art center. If we’re not changing up our model every six months, we’re old.”

Advertisements
Comments
5 Responses to “Newly promoted Executive Director dishes on details of UICA + KCAD merger”
  1. “‘We’re walking into the black for the first time in– forever?’ Krajniak adds.”

    POINT: UICA was in the red and in serious danger of closing within 60 days when Jeff walked through the door. Since we both were candidates for the ED position, we conversed comparing notes about the full debt amount being shared with us during the interview process. It would turn out to be much higher than was disclosed to both of us. It was actually closer to $750,000 when Jeff walked in on day one as the ED.

    Jeff and I were friends over the years leading up to his hire and remained friends after. His moves to save UICA were often unpopular ones with many. He mobilized over the years crafting partnerships and alliances to put UICA back in the black but also take care of his staff. It was not always easy and I did not always agreed with him with every move. But he did it against all odds.

    He would often remark after saving the organization that he truly felt when he walked through that door he was uncertain if he could make it work. I am fortunate that he felt comfortable sharing this story that I have never repeated until recently. I valued his privacy on this matter since his thoughts were his own and pointed out the very real threat facing an arts center many of us have had given so much of our creative talent and time to ensure its advancement in our city.

    To the best of my knowledge UICA remained in the black for some time until the capital campaign years which included the crash of 2008 where a perfect storm would emerge bringing many other factors too complicated to unpack here.

    So to help fill in the blanks on UICA’s long and bumpy history, they have enjoyed moments in the black….and I hope they, under Miranda’s leadership, are able to stay that way long into the future.

  2. “‘We’re walking into the black for the first time in– forever?’ Krajniak adds.”

    POINT: UICA was in the red and in serious danger of closing within 60 days when Jeff walked through the door. Since we both were candidates for the ED position, we conversed comparing notes about the full debt amount being shared with us during the interview process. It would turn out to be much higher than was disclosed to both of us. It was actually closer to $750,000 when Jeff walked in on day one as the ED.

    Jeff and I were friends over the years leading up to his hire and remained friends after. His moves to save UICA were often unpopular ones with many. He mobilized over the years crafting partnerships and alliances to put UICA back in the black but also take care of his staff. It was not always easy and I did not always agreed with him with every move. But he did it against all odds.

    He would often remark after saving the organization that he truly felt when he walked through that door he was uncertain if he could make it work. I am fortunate that he felt comfortable sharing this story that I have never repeated until recently. I valued his privacy on this matter since his thoughts were his own and pointed out the very real threat facing an arts center many of us have had given so much of our creative talent and time to ensure its advancement in our city.

    To the best of my knowledge UICA remained in the black for some time until the capital campaign years which included the crash of 2008 where a perfect storm would emerge bringing many other factors too complicated to unpack here.

    So to help fill in the blanks on UICA’s long and bumpy history, they have enjoyed moments in the black….and I hope they, under Miranda’s leadership, are able to stay that way long into the future.

  3. arthack1 says:

    Thanks for sharing this background info, Tommy. Because Jeff left in such an abrupt manner, I don’t think it has ever been clear how much he did do to fight for the organization’s survival.

  4. todd wozniak says:

    Amen Tommy, As I recall, Jeff would at times charge clay and other ceramics supplies with funds that were sometimes his own. He worked so hard for that place and truely cared. From Mary Doezema,(who i worked for for 2 yrs) and then too izzy, ceramics at the uica were killer and filled with countless oprotunities for every walk of life. I am grateful for being able to teach there under izzy for 5 or so years. Things did change tho. The air began to get heavy with acedamia ..Uncertainty and tension replaced the peaceful atmosphere in the studio. This article seems to have a contradiction. For instance a heavy shift twards adult ed class’, but then saying that ceramics is on the chopping block and that it is a duplicate course offered by Ferris . ok, so no ceramics then? I realize that there are many other mediums, but why get rid of something that is already established and set up in an amazing way. Seems like the new emergancy manager of the uica is there for very specific reasons. As was CWD. Cummings , and Doug Devos. Ricks uncle, own the building. Rick was on the board for some time. His name is now off the list , last checked. So, Uncle owns the building and nephew on the board. How could this go wrong? Which brings me to my final thought, clearly this merger was planned. For how Long has it been planned, would truethfully answer every ethical question I have. Because 4 mill is a steal of a deal. Up there with the 1$ Ferris payed for the old federal building before renovation. Politics… Well thanks to all who have put up with reading this opinionated rant of facts and confusion.

  5. arthack1 says:

    I would like to address a quote that seems to have gotten some negative attention from that last interview. If I could go back in time, I would push pause and ask Ms. Krajniak to speak more to that statement.

    So, I would like to explain what I see is signified by her wish to show an artist like Yinka Shonibare, which in addition to describing, she noted was “black and disabled.” I would also like to explain why these descriptives are similarly important.

    First, Shonibare is a British artist of Nigerian descent whose work deals directly with issues of race, colonialism, and political power. As in this work pictured above, his work often involves mannequins dressed in 18th century Victorian costumes. The batik fabric of the dresses mimic African textiles, and some, upon closer examination incorporate contemporary elite fashion symbols, such as the Chanel logo. The work is a complex, rich exploration of the tensions between race, power, and the inequalities between dominant and colonialized cultures.

    Naturally, I was encouraged to hear Krajniak name this as her dream artist to show at the UICA, as it signifies a readiness to take on difficult conversations about race, class, and marginalization. Conversations that, frankly, are rare in West Michigan—especially where diverse voices are part of the discussion. Sometimes getting those diverse voices to the table takes some intentionality. We are naïve, or worse exclusivist if we think that race does or should not matter. If we want a richer, more rounded conversation, giving voice to individuals who are often underrepresented most certainly matters.

    How that is done, of course, is a delicate issue. However, art has always been a natural vehicle for exploring nuanced, problematic topics. I am hopeful that the UICA will continue to be a place that facilitates this dialogue as it looks to artists to bring their unique perspectives. It sounds like Krajniak wants the same thing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: