Gallery Beat

Alper Initiative for Washington Art at the American University Museum

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By F. Lennox Campello

Every once in a while I get to go on the Kojo Nmandi radio show on WAMU to discuss DC area visual art stuff… and at one of those radio shows, many years ago, I was discussing the lack of interest, or better still, apathy, that most Washington area museum curators exhibit (pun intended) towards our DMV area artists.

In what was to become a battle cry of the ignored, I noted that “it was easier for a local DC area museum curator or director to take a cab to Dulles to catch a flight to Berlin, or London, Madrid, or even Havana (before it was OK to hang around with dictators), etc. in order to visit an emerging artist’s studio, than to take a cab to Alexandria, or Georgetown, or Arlington, or Rockville to do the same.”SONY DSC

What does that take? I’m not sure, but the libertarian part of me suspects a certain degree of “taking the path of least resistance” on the daily workload of the other local museum curators/directors, many of whom are government employees: I suspect that it is much easier to take a traveling exhibition, let’s say, than organizing one from scratch.Gallery Beat-Katzen_2

I know that I am generalizing here, and often that’s a bad thing, but in the multiple conversations that I’ve had over the years with several generations of curators from the Hirshhorn, NGA, NPG, the former Corcoran and others (yes, even other local area Universities – again with notable exceptions, such as Dr. Claudia Rousseau’s excellent gallery programming at MoCo Community College) I’ve gathered both empirical and anecdotal data to back up that impression.

Any of “our” local museums is welcomed to please prove me wrong!


And it is because of Rasmussen’s stellar leadership and guiding hand, and the Katzen’s record with its own community that I can report the following:


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“… Thanks to a major gift from alumna and art advocate Carolyn Alper, BA/CAS ’68, to the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, more resources will be allocated to the study and exhibition of Washington art. Alper’s gift will establish the Alper Initiative for Washington Art at the American University Museum. The initiative will dedicate space for displaying the work of Washington artists, including more tightly focused, historical shows; development of space for archives of Washington art (available for both members of the public and AU students); an endowment to support more programming of events, gatherings, lectures and films; and digitization of AU’s growing collection of Washington art.”


According to AU Museum Curator and Director Jack Rasmussen: “Carolyn’s gift provides American University Museum the funds necessary to elevate Washington art to the place of prominence it deserves. All of Washington should be grateful as Carolyn has put her contributions where her heart is.”


The new home of the Alper Initiative will be:

  • 2,000 square foot space
  • 5 exhibitions of Washington art per year
  • 1 common gathering area for events and film screenings
  • DC’s only museum space dedicated to the display, research, and encouragement of the region’s art

The construction folks tell me that the new space will open in early 2016.


Thank you Ms. Alper, thank you AU and thank you Jack!

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