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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Amid controversy and celebration, Rose thrives

Published: May 19, 2012
Section: Front Page, News

It has been more than three years since former President Jehuda Reinharz announced, amid great controversy, that The Rose Art Museum would close and the university would auction the collection’s pieces. Nearly a year after President Fred Lawrence’s announcement that the university had settled a lawsuit and would sell none of its artwork, the museum has thrived following its 50th anniversary.

The Rose has long been an integral part of Brandeis’ history since its opening in 1961, 13 years after the university’s founding. The Rose’s key pillars extend far beyond the housing and preservation of exceptional exhibitions—with a strong focus on academic excellence, social justice and freedom of expression, the values of the museum largely embody the facets on which Brandeis itself was founded. Additionally, The Rose is self-funded and has never been an economic burden to the university.

This is one of many reasons why 2009 saw such an immense response to the decision to close The Rose. Reinharz, recognizing the university’s great financial difficulty, announced that the collection would be auctioned by Christie’s Auction House.

The decision was kept under wraps from even the Fine Arts department until the board of trustees had voted, a choice that was met with shock and outrage by students and faculty alike. Following the financial crisis and monetary difficulty of many benefactors, Brandeis faced a 25 percent drop in endowment and a multi-million-dollar deficit, which was only exacerbated by the economic downturn of 2008. Thus, the board of trustees, in cooperation with Reinharz, went behind the backs of many key figures in Brandeis’ artistic community and agreed to auction off the collection.

Not surprisingly, this decision was met with much protest from far beyond just the Brandeis community. Students protested relentlessly, staging sit-ins and making posters expressing their dismay at the museum’s closing and the university’s non-transparent process.

Then-museum Director Michael Rush stated, “As essential as The Rose is to the Brandeis community, it is bigger than Brandeis. The university has made a big, big mistake.” The events garnered attention from all around the state, and national media heavily criticized the administration’s action. Additionally, Rush soon found himself without a job, as the university failed to renew his contract.

Yet it was more than just popular backlash that saved The Rose from its seemingly imminent demise. The summer following the museum’s announced closing, three of The Rose’s overseers launched a complaint, stating that the museum is “privately endowed and virtually autonomous,” and in auctioning off the collection, Brandeis would be betraying its initial agreement with the Roses, who donated the funds to start the museum. The complaint claimed that, in addition to being morally questionable, the university’s decision went against the specifications in Edward Rose’s will, which did not give Brandeis the rights to sell individual pieces.

The mess that ensued as a result of the Rose debacle saw a few large changes in the Brandeis community, most notably Reinharz’s departure as president in 2010. Thus, on Jan. 1, 2011, Lawrence assumed his current position. It was in the first months of Lawrence’s presidency that the lawsuit was resolved and Brandeis announced that the museum would remain open—an announcement that was met with a great sigh of relief from the entire community, especially as The Rose’s 50th anniversary drew nearer. Closed for summer renovations, the museum reopened in October 2011, just in time for this momentous occasion.

In what seems a far cry from the museum’s near-demise, The Rose returned with new flooring, energy efficient glass, an LED light system and brand new rooms. The 50th-anniversary celebration was one of much celebration and new exhibitions, which featured the work of such 1960s-era artists as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Ellsworth Kelly, while another exhibition features the work of multimedia artist Bruce Conner.

The staff at the museum hopes to get students more involved with The Rose with more student tour guides and greater involvement in the educational community. While many have regarded The Rose as a “hidden jewel” of Brandeis University, in the years to come, it will be far less hidden. If the university gained anything from two years of turmoil and uncertainty, it is knowledge of an irreplaceable resource so close to home, one that speaks of not only the value of art in a monetary sense, but its meaning to an entire community and the efforts many will take to preserve it.