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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
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Interviewer: Carol MacDonald
Interviewee: Budd Harris
February 27, 1992
M: [This is Carol MacDonald, and I am interviewing Budd Harris Bishop, director of the]
Har Museum of Art. [We are in the director's conference room of the Har
Museum.] Today is the 27th of February, 1992. Would you please spell your whole
B: Budd Harris Bishop.
M: The name Budd--what does that mean?
B: My family is essentially English, and the name has come down through the family
from North Carolina. My family settled in north Georgia in the early nineteenth
century. I have never devoted much time to genealogical research, so I have to go
mostly on family hearsay and a few stories that my parents told me and some
references. The best I could determine the name [Budd] is a surname from my
mother's family. My [paternal] grandfather was named Robert Harris Bishop.
Originally I was to be named for him, but at the last moment for some reason my
mother was fooling around with names. She did not like [the name] Bob much, and
she liked Budd because she liked the way it sounded. So she just plucked this
name out of the family history as a nice name to go with Harris. It has given me
tremendous problems over the years because it is mistaken all the time for a
nickname. That is why I use all three names. At least it implies that it is not a
nickname if they are used together.
Eventually I was kind of stunned when I picked up a book on names, having always
felt like I was not a named person, because it is a surname, and a difficult one at
that. It would not have been so bad if I had been named Carter, which is a fairly
common surname used as a first name. Budd was more difficult. Lo and behold, I
discovered that Budd is a very ancient Celtic-derived name that survives in the
Anglo-Saxon language, and it has a specific meaning: it means town crier. So I
began to think, Well, that is not too bad. Maybe I am supposed to bring some kind
of a message.
M: And you have a real name after all.
B: I have a real name after all, but I was thirty-five years old before I knew that. For
years I was sent home from school by teachers who thought that I was being
impertinent when I would not give them my real name. They would ask for my real
name. So I have to say that on the one hand it sort of confirmed my identity,
because I had to fight against this thing of having a name that people did not
understand. On the other hand, it also was unsettling. We moved around a great
deal when I was a child, so I had to reintroduce myself all the time to new people
and had to get new acceptance of that name.
And forever it has been misspelled with one d. No matter how many times I write it
to people, they still refer back to me with one d, because that is the common
understanding, [that] it is a nickname. I have always despised the name Buddy,
because it is really an affront to my name, which is already fragile in a way.
I never was tempted to part it on the side, as in B. Harris, which would have been at
least accepted a little better.
M: You would not want to be called Harris?
B: I do not mind that, and I would not have minded that. I think I am sorry I did not
think about doing that early enough to become accustomed to it. Now I am
comfortable with Budd. Actually, most people who know me think it is really an
appropriate name, that I have grown into it or it has grown to me. That is a tough
thing. But that is the least of my worries, I guess.
M: You mentioned your grandparents. First of all, tell me when and where you were
B: I was born in Canton, Georgia, which was the county seat of Cherokee County.
Cherokee County is the county just north of Fulton [County], which is the county in
which Atlanta sits. So Canton is about thirty-eight to forty miles due north of Atlanta.
When I was born in Canton, my parents were living, actually, in a small town near
Canton called Ball Ground, which is named for a historic ball field where Creek
Indians settled their disputes and differences by peaceful means of playing ball on a
field. It is a natural, sort of grassy plain at the convergence of two streams. It was
kind of a little delta, and because it was free of trees the Indians used it for their form
of lacrosse. The town was built around that ball field, and the ball field was
preserved as an historic site.
M: Did they use it?
B: They came back from time to time on ceremonial occasions and did ceremonial ball
games. As a child I remember the Indians coming back, and it was kind of
fascinating. I always felt a little connected to them because I grew up in that town.
The town was tiny: 650 people, maybe. And it is still there, every building. It was
never very strong economically, and it has been turned into an artificial little historic
town. All of the stores that used to function when I was a child there are now
antique shops. So it is sort of a tourist place to stop on the way to the north Georgia
M: It has been preserved and has not really changed a lot.
B: It has actually been sort of gentrified into more of a historical setting. The buildings
have been painted pretty colors and all of that more so than it actually was. I was
born [in 1936] and grew up in the dead center of the Depression, so it was a very
depressed place when I lived there. I went to the first grade in public school. Then
M: Did you experience the Depression when you were a child?
B: No, not at all. The first thing I remember, really, about the bigger world was World
War II, and only the rationing. I remember rationing and I remember the limited food
and I remember how much my mother would marshal her resources. Of course, we
lived very close to the bottom. My father had a very low-paying working job, and my
mother did not work until I was in college. She stayed home [and assumed] the
traditional housewife role. Both of them had [little education]; my father had only an
eighth-grade education, and my mother did not graduate from high school, although
she finished her classes. She did not get a diploma. She dropped out in the middle
of her senior year because her [recently widowed] father needed full-time domestic
help, so my mother and one of her sisters chose to get out of school and stay home
with their father and help him on the farm. Most of the other children in the family
had already grown up and married. She was the next-to-last daughter. So her life
was sort of interrupted for the sake of her father. She was a cultivated woman, and I
felt she had a great deal more innate taste and discrimination about things than her
education showed. But both my parents were always very self-conscious about their
lack of education, so they put a great deal of emphasis on mine.
M: You said your grandparents were farmers?
B: Oh, yes. I do not know how far back the farming tradition goes, but certainly
everybody I can remember as far back as I have ever heard were farmers on both
sides. My maternal grandfather was a pretty well established farmer and had a
pretty well established operation, with a large number of tenant farmers who would
come and live in residence and farm the place. He would not physically farm, but he
was kind of a farmer/businessman. He had thirteen children, two of whom died in
their infancy, so eleven survived. My mother was the tenth of the eleven who lived.
M: Was this in Georgia?
B: In Georgia, in Cherokee County, outside Canton, in a rural section called Buffington
Community. My grandfather's name was William Franklin Ponder, which is a really
pure English name. In fact, there is a little section of London called Ponder's End.
So I am convinced the Ponders came from near London or at least from central
England. In the area where my grandfather had his farm--he had a substantial
amount of property--there is a large cemetery that is named Ponder Cemetery, and
everybody in it is either related or got permission from him to be buried there,
because he donated the land. It was kind of customary in those days for somebody
to do that. So my mother's family is very integrally involved in that part of the history
of that county. My grandfather became somewhat active in politics as a political
leader in the county, and he was influential in swinging votes for, say, gubernatorial
candidates. In Cherokee County they would court him for his endorsement, and he
seemed to have a lot of respect. I never knew him, so I do not know. I was an only
child, and all four of my grandparents were dead before I was born, so I had a very
unusual upbringing in that my parents themselves were much older than the norm,
and all of my grandparents were gone. So I never experienced those relationships
that children have with extended families.
M: No uncles or aunts?
B: Well, they were all very much older, too. It is rather complicated, but just to put it
into perspective, my mother's oldest sister, Cora, who was the first of the thirteen
children, was so much older than my mother that she was married and had children
of her own before my mother was born, so I have first cousins who are older than
my mother. So it made relationships with a lot of the family somewhat odd and
incompatible. Some of my first cousins--if they are alive, and I am not sure they
are--would have been born before 1910, so they would be in their eighties. They are
my first cousins, and I am fifty-five, so there is a huge age spread. Once you get
into cousins-once-removed and second cousins and all of that, you do not have that
sense of family that you have in the immediate blood relatives.
This happened on both sides. My father was from a much smaller family. He was
born in 1895, so when I was born in 1936 he was forty-one years old. He was the
baby in his family of four children and had been raised by his older sister because
his mother had died when he was very young. So my Aunt Mary, who was his
sister, seemed more like a grandmother than anybody I had in my family. She
became my grandmother-surrogate; I grew up thinking of her as a grandmother
figure. She had no children.
M: Did she live nearby?
B: She and her husband lived in Ball Ground, so they were near where I grew up the
first six years. Then in the sixth year, when I went to the first grade in Ball Ground,
my family started moving. My father worked for the state of Georgia. He first
started out as a policeman.
Let me back up just a little bit. When he was a young man he had played baseball
professionally. There were all kinds of very small leagues all over the place, and he
played in some little bush league, as they called it, and traveled a lot. He was a
pretty successful first baseman. He had been in World War I, which is pretty
amazing that I, at my age, would have a father who was a veteran of World War I.
[He] served in Europe, in France, particularly.
After he got out of the army he played baseball for a while, but that is not anything
for kind of a permanent life, that sort of nomadic, bush league kind of life. Imagine
(this is the early 1920s in Georgia) going from red clay ball field to red clay ball field
and [earning] very little money. So he got into law enforcement, because with his
education not very much was open to him. He was not suited for certain kinds of
manufacturing work, and there was not much work in manufacturing in those days
except in cotton mills. So he got a job as a law enforcement officer because he was
big and he was athletic, and it seemed to suit him. I laugh and say that in Ball
Ground he was the chief of police because he was the only policeman. In a town
that size they had one officer. He drove his own car, even; there was not even an
official police car, and there was no police office. So it was very small-town stuff.
Then he joined the state of Georgia as a law enforcement officer. He was assigned
to the Alcohol and Tax Division, so he became what they called a revenuerr." He
was moved around the state to new places where bootleg whiskey was being
produced, and he was brought in as a state agent to try to break up stills and arrest
bootleggers. This was his occupation.
M: It seems like that could be kind of dangerous.
B: Very dangerous. He lost parts of his body over his lifetime, he was shot, and he had
had many things happen to him. He would sometimes stake out a place for three
nights running and lie on the damp earth behind camouflage for two or three nights
without moving until he could catch somebody. In order to arrest them he had to
catch them actually operating the still. So I grew up hearing a lot of lore about these
backwoods people in Georgia who were breaking the law and kind of creating a
black market economy of their own. His job was to break them up. He worked in
teams with federal officers. It was very dangerous work, and he was away from
home a lot. My mother worried a lot, because it was a very unstable kind of life.
The pay was low, and he could be killed at any time. There would be a miserable
tension. So we lived very close to the edge all my [young] life.
Then when I grew up [and was] in second grade in Columbus, Georgia, a teacher
named Helen Goldman called my mother in and told here that I had an extraordinary
visual perception and that I did things in a very unusual way for a second-grade
child. She thought it was so extraordinary that they should explore that. That is
pretty remarkable, because that would have been about 1942 or 1943, in the middle
of World War II. This sensitive teacher in Columbus, Georgia, at the Wynnton
School, which is still there, counseled my mother about art lessons. [We continued
to move around a lot,] from little Georgia town to little Georgia town, sometimes not
staying not more than six months, and everywhere we moved my mother would go
ahead to look for an apartment to rent and for an art teacher. So I had a series of
teachers from the second grade forward until high school that were private, small-
town art teachers. I can remember specific lessons and specific kinds of
experiences. Most of them I realize now were pretty primitive, but the spark was
kept alive. I was the only child in any neighborhood where I lived that had had
private art lessons. So this is pretty extraordinary, given my father's education and
his occupation, that he would put aside hard-earned money for this.
M: And he had such a tough occupation.
B: Yes. But he fully accepted the teacher's recommendations, because he had this
great respect for educated people. So her saying this would be my future, he
bought it, and so did my mother. She was even more devoted, of course. I never
had piano lessons or any other kind of lessons because we could not afford more
than one thing. So I got art lessons. What happened was it gave me a distinction
that by the ninth or tenth grade I was really unique in my school because I had a
facility and training that was extraordinary among the rest of the kids who had not
had this event. So it set me apart and gave me a kind of distinction and kind of a
goal to be that person. I started living up to expectations of me.
M: What artists were you exposed to in your early education?
B: Oh, very few that I can remember that were distinguished. I am talking about people
that gave me little rote lessons to follow up. There was very poor teaching in many
ways. But in many cases, though, I learned a lot about materials. I can remember
my first art gum eraser, I can remember my first pink Pearl-type eraser, and I can
remember the first time I drew in charcoal. By the time I got to the ninth grade I
really had a very accomplished-looking art production. I was starting to win awards
in higher-age categories than I was in.
Then there was a big breakthrough. We were living in Rome, Georgia; we wound up
there in one of my father's reassignments. My mother met a very cultivated lady,
Mrs. Jones, who owned an employment agency. She was a business-lady, and she
was a very large and rather grand woman who seemed out of place in that small
town. She had just somehow wound up there with her little business. She was an
accomplished person, and she was intrigued by my talent and the unusual fact that
here was a kid that she met from this family that had no real reason to be pursuing
art but was just immersed in art. She went down and talked to some men at the
Rome Kiwanis Club, and they decided that I would be a good project for them to
underwrite. So they paid for my tuition to Shorter College, which was a private girls'
school in Rome, Georgia. I was allowed time off from high school from the ninth to
the twelfth grades and went out in the afternoons and took the studio classes at
Shorter College with the college students for four years, with the
Rome Kiwanis Club paying my tuition.
M: This was throughout high school?
B: Throughout high school.
M: And it was a girls' college. What a dream come true! [laughter]
B: It was a girls' college, a beautiful little campus. It was a fairly highly regarded girls'
school. The [art] teacher was a woman named Rebecca Wall, and she was very
imaginative. I will not forget her, because she was an inspiring teacher and gave me
a lot of encouragement during the high school period.
As I said, my life has been a series of turns. I am really dwelling way too much on
the early days. Then in my senior year in high school, [I had] no money and no
prospects for college, although I was a very good student. I made very good grades
in things like mathematics and trigonometry, and I could do things like logarithms,
which is not supposed to be consistent with an artist. I made a perfect 100 in
geometry in my junior year, and I was the only student in that course for several
years that had a perfect grade on every test, every piece of homework, and every
final exam. I had a perfect 100. I also made perfect 100s in spelling since the fifth
grade. There were certain skills and traits I had that were kind of inconsistent with
the artistic temperament, so I should have known something was wrong.
Anyway, in my senior year at Rome High School, when I was contemplating what I
was going to do and had no prospects for going to an important college because I
just did not have the money, Shorter College made the decision to go coeducational.
It had been taking men students on a selective basis for several years, and
because it was a part of the Georgia Baptist Convention most of its male students
had been ministerial students or pre-ministerial students who wanted to take religion
courses and some of the philosophy courses and some of the other things that
Shorter offered in preparation for going away to another school. There were men on
the campus, but it was treated as a women's college. Shorter had fallen on hard
times because women's colleges were going out of fashion. The big ones like ...
B: Well, those, yes, but even in the South, Agnes Scott [College in Decatur, Georgia]
and some of these well-known schools were doing all right. But the littler ones like
Shorter, with only about 350 students, were getting into financial difficulties. They
could not charge the tuition that it was going to cost. To double the student body by
taking in men was one economic decision. So they made the decision to take in
They knew they would have to do something extraordinary to get men to come to
the school full-time, because it was still structured as a women's college. It did not
have athletics; it did not have a lot of things. They gave a lot of scholarships to
individuals that had something they wanted. Since they had known me for four
years, I automatically got the art scholarship. So I got a four-year, tuition-paid
scholarship to Shorter College if I would go there as a coed reversal.
M: How did your parents react to that?
B: They were thrilled to death, because I suddenly got the possibility of a full-paid
college education. I resolved all the problems with that. My mother then took a job.
She ran a Laundromat so that she could give me spending money, so that I would
have money for books and incidentals, because my father could not afford to
M: So you had to pay for your supplies.
B: Oh, yes, and then I had to pay for my room and board. I accomplished that by going
to work for the college. I did everything from working the switchboard to cleaning
the bathrooms in the fine arts building. I did janitorial work and maintenance work
on the swimming pool. I did lettering and painting in the summer for the college, and
in the winter I worked in the cafeteria and ran the switchboard. So Shorter was very
good for me because it was a very generous place. They made it possible for me to
get a free college education by just working.
I made the dean's list every term but one out of four years and was a pretty good
student. I had one weak semester in my sophomore year when I got distracted from
my mission and kind of got off track and got crossways with some of the faculty. I
sort of got very independent. I got back on track in my junior year. I was good in
the sciences, but of course the art was really still shining.
All through college I lived up to expectations of other people. They expected me to
be a good art student, so I was. They expected me to win all the prizes, so I did.
They expected me to take the annual award for the outstanding student in a certain
area, and I did. That was just expected, and I did it.
When I finished Shorter [in 1958 with a B.A. degree,] I still had no prospects for
graduate school. I had made no plans and had no money and did not know what I
was going to do. I sort of wasted that summer after graduation studying the
possibilities and thinking maybe I would just go to work. Then I decided I had better
get my master's degree before it was too late, so I moved to the University of
Georgia campus [in Athens]. I was not allowed to enroll as a graduate student
because I had not completed the required number of hours, so I had to work for a
semester and take more undergraduate courses at the University of Georgia.
That semester [which] I delayed entering gave me the other serendipity: a graduate
student dropped out, and I got an assistantship. Then I had graduate school paid
for. So somehow I have always been taken care of. There has [always] been some
kind of very fortuitous moment in my life when something came along at just the
right moment and I was able to hang on. I got my master's degree [M.F.A.] in 1960.
M: Now, did you specialize in sculpture or painting or ...
B: Painting. My primary interest was painting, but I chose drawing as a more-
fundamental skill to really develop. I had one professor who was particularly
influential in drawing, and I worked for him as an assistant in the university gallery,
helping him hang shows and circulating exhibitions around the state of Georgia. His
name was Charles Morgan, and he was very influential on my thinking. I ultimately
did my thesis on aspects of drawing as an analytical thing and using media.
In the meantime, I had developed a skill for printmaking at Shorter, and I was
graduate teaching assistant in printmaking at the University of Georgia. So
whatever had happened to me in my background all turned into something I used in
In graduate school I decided that I had better prepare for the possibility of some turn
in my career, so I took an equal number of course hours in both painting and in art
history. When I got to the master's level thesis moment I could have been allowed
to take my degree either way; I could have taken it in art history or in studio. I chose
to take it in studio, to take an M.F.A. instead of a M.A. But I had all the requirements
behind me. I had all the French and all the German and all the Latin. I had studied
French literature as a minor; I took extra courses. I think the required course load
was fifty hours at Georgia for a master's, and I took seventy-five. I took courses in
the nineteenth-century novel in French, and I took French poetry. I was trying to
immerse myself in the French culture because I felt that when I left graduate school
probably France was going to be a destination, and I wanted to know as much about
it as I could, culturally and the language. That was not to be, because that did not
Right after I left graduate school I have Shorter to thank again, because a former art
major colleague from Shorter was teaching [at Ensworth School, a private
elementary school] in Nashville, Tennessee, while her husband finished medical
school at Vanderbilt. She called and said: "I am going to be leaving this great
teaching job. Would you like to have it?" I went up to Nashville and interviewed for
it and got it, so I moved right into a situation that, again, somebody helped me into.
There I was teaching in Nashville, Tennessee, and I was exhibiting as an artist and
getting very nice reviews. I got a gallery and started selling. Since I was teaching at
a private school I had a lot of wealthy parents who were kind of patronizing me and
buying my work, whether they really liked it or not. They were supporting me, kind
of, so that was a fruitful time for me.
It was also in that period that I was cast out of the nurturing environment for the first
time and was on my own, and I began to have doubts about my art. When I had
served in the National Guard and went on active duty for a few months--I joined the
Guard in 1960 just in case the draft was intensified, which, of course, it was a little
later--I was stationed [at Fort Jackson] in Columbia, South Carolina. I had gone
over to the museum there and had run into the work of Jasper Johns, which was the
beginning of the end for me. There was this beautiful drawing show that I saw in
1960 by Jasper Johns, and I realized that he was up here and I was down here, and
I would never bridge that gulf. I began to really seriously doubt why I was doing this
if I could not be as good as Jasper Johns. The work just blew me completely away
and haunted me. Well, I kept on teaching and working for a couple more years.
Then I decided that I had better go to New York if I was ever going to go to New
York, because I knew that the older I got the harder it would be to make that move
economically and everything. So I packed up and moved to New York.
M: In what year was that?
B: This was 1964. I could not get work. I had enough money saved up to live about
three or four months. I found that I just could not get a job that I wanted, so I took
an odd kind of job. I went to work in the mail room of an advertising agency till I got
the full-time job, which turned out to be assistant to the president of a trade
association for advertising called the Transit Advertising Association. The guy I
worked for had the job of working on the problems of an industry that sold
advertising on buses and in subways and car cards inside buses and airport
advertising and all of that. I was thrown into a completely new world, which was the
world of advertising, marketing, and public relations.
After about six months he realized that I had a lot of skills that I was not using, so he
put me in charge of a lot of the marketing and research and promotion of the
industry. I started traveling and meeting people in the field and giving presentations
to advertising agencies in New York and Chicago and around the country. I began
to develop an administrative style. Up to this point I had never administered
anything but myself, but I found I could run an office and I could organize work and I
could put on conventions; I found myself very skillful in the organizing and
administrative area, just by instinct. I worked at that until 1966.
In Chattanooga the search committee was looking for a director for their museum.
They had polled the country for names, and they talked to someone in Nashville who
had known me when I was teaching there. This person said: "Why don't you try
him? He's an artist, and he knows art history. He is now working in New York in
advertising." They thought that sounded like a great combination, so they called me
and asked me if I would come down for an interview. I did. I walked into the place,
and it was my first thought about managing a museum. I had worked in the
university gallery at [the University of] Georgia, [and] I had visited museums only
after I was in college. I had never thought about it much. They were not very
exciting in the late 1950s. If you think back to what museums must have been like
in the late 1950s, they could not have been very interesting.
When I walked into the museum in Chattanooga it was just a perfect fit. I could see
what it needed, I could see it needed me, and I could see what I could do for it. The
thought of taking it and shaping it and turning it into something from nothing,
because it was pretty much nothing, [intrigued me]. It had been very badly
neglected. The people in Chattanooga knew they had a long way to go. They were
open to a lot of ideas.
M: What year was this?
B: This was 1966. So my first museum job I literally took pretty much without any
specific experience. I had acted as a volunteer in a museum in Nashville and had
done some lecturing. I taught art history at Vanderbilt one year [as a visiting
M: You were only twenty-nine at the time?
B: I was twenty-nine, and I took a museum on. I had a staff of two besides me; I had a
secretary/bookkeeper and a janitor, and the three of us ran that museum for about
four years before I figured out it was not possible. We just did it. In the first year or
two I did not know some of the issues and some of the problems. I sort of took it a
day at a time. Then I would come up against something that I did not quite
understand, so I would ... I relied a lot on a number of generous museum directors.
I will never forget Richard Howard, who was director of the Birmingham Museum of
Art. He was an older man who had served in World War II and had been part of the
[art] repatriation program after the war for the U.S. and Allied troops where they tried
to return confiscated artworks, so he had gotten this wonderful experience in art
work. He was so generous with his time. He would literally take hours on the phone
with me. I would call him and say: "Here is my problem. I am in this situation, and
these are my possibilities," and he would walk me through the problem.
M: Almost like a mentor.
B: A mentor. He very much mentored me, and I found myself relying on him and a few
other people. Some people were totally unhelpful, and I remember them, too. But I
had a very successful year or two, and the museum started taking off. Then the
community got confidence in me, although I was still in my early thirties. They
started following my lead, and I developed very fast a philosophy and a concept for
I used all of my accumulated kinds of experiences, from presentations to advertising
agencies (where I had had to be very confident and very articulate) to talking to
artists and encouraging them to exhibit with us. I was really functioning on dozens
of levels, and it was very exciting. The biggest problem I had was credibility
because of my age. A lot of older people were reluctant to put money into the
museum because they just could not quite believe I knew what to do with it.
M: Was that your most difficult area? Money?
B: It always is. It always is in any nonprofit organization, be it a museum or a
symphony. It is money, money, money. Everything you do is driven by a desire to
present quality education for people, but to present anything of quality you also have
to attract money. It is a very difficult double-edged thing, because if you lower your
standards to attract money then you quit attracting money. So you have to be very
precise about your goals and maintaining your quality standards. You also have to
be very persuasive and know how to find money of all kinds--donations, grants.
My biggest problem was being so young. That became less and less of a problem.
Of course, I now know that sometimes the advantage of youth is that you are
fearless and that you do not have any concerns about trying something because,
why not? You are young and resilient. I think young people are good for the field,
because as they come in they bring that optimism and idealism with them. I have
never lost it. I feel that one of the hallmarks of my career has been that I am
absolutely as optimistic now as I was twenty-six years ago when I started in the field,
and I am just as idealistic about it in most ways. I am battle-hardened, and I have a
lot of experience that tells me how to go about doing things that I did not have in
those days, but I am no less willing to take chances and to leap into the void, so to
I think that that basic enthusiasm [has propelled me and sustained me throughout
my career]. I have no idea where that comes from. Maybe it comes from
encouragement as a child, from my family's complete belief in me and the
confidence that gave me. For some people that could have been a crushing burden,
but for me it was just a sign of encouragement, my family's willingness to do
whatever it took to get me wherever I was going, their sacrifices. I was not a great
kid. I mean, I was not a wonderful child. I was not that grateful. I think my parents'
pleasure in my success was their greatest reward. They did not get that much from
me as a person, because I was on such a fast track on my own agenda that I did not
stop a lot of times to be grateful. I think about that.
M: Do you have a relationship with your parents now?
B: Oh, they both have been gone for many years. My father died in 1972--I cannot tell
you the month--and my mother died in 1981, so they both have been gone a long
time, my mother ten years and my father nineteen years. I was still at my first
museum job when my father died. In 1981 I was in my second museum job. We
lived far away, and my mother was in a hospital. She was an invalid and had to
have around-the-clock nursing care, so she had been in a nursing home in our
hometown, where she was still close to all of her friends, for nine years since the
time my father died. I was very close to my mother all the way through. Because
my father died so long ago, I never felt like I really matured in time to have a mature
relationship with him.
M: So basically, by seeing your success they were gratified.
B: Oh, I think so. That was what they really attached a lot of value to. I think the fact
that they thought that I would have a better life than they had had [gave them a
great sense that they had succeeded as parents]. The funny thing is that parents
want to see their kids have a better life, but they do not know how to describe that or
how to conceive it. My father thought that I would work less than he did. Actually I
work much longer hours than he ever did. Even though he worked hard, those kinds
of jobs have limits to what you have to do. But in a job like mine it is an all-
consuming thing. You work literally constantly. You never quit working after work.
Of course, I am much better compensated and live a life that they could barely even
conceive in terms of what I have in the way of disposable income. Anything I want
in the way of travel [is mine for the taking]. Those opportunities were not available
to them. They probably could not even conceive the dimension of my life. That was
not available to them.
M: How did you end up at Harvard in 1970? What kind of a program was it? You said
it was over the summer.
B: I was in the first class. The Harvard Business School decided they would put on an
art institute. This was very fashionable at the moment, in 1969-1970. A lot of
places were starting to look at arts administration as a separate discipline. Harvard
liked to be in the vanguard of ideas, so a group of people at Harvard decided they
knew enough about arts administration to put together a special program within the
business school. They decided to experiment with it as a summer program. They
introduced it in 1969 for the 1970 summer. I went to my board in Chattanooga and
said: "I have been director here four years now. I have had some successes, but I
also feel like I have some weaknesses. I would like to test my knowledge against
this program, to see where I am." They agreed to pay for it and give me the six or
eight weeks off it took to go to Harvard that summer.
I checked into a dorm. For the summer program we were on the campus. I do not
remember the number, but I think there were about forty people in the institute that
summer. They came from every discipline--dance, opera, symphony orchestras,
colleges of fine arts, and art museums. I met a lot of people there who have been
lifelong friends since then. We were the first group.
Harvard did not have a real crisp idea of what they wanted to accomplish. They
were sort of feeling their way. They approached the program on the case-study
method, which is the Harvard Business School basis of study, where they take
specific examples and study all the forces in those specific examples and then set
up situations or scenarios to see what tests all of the assumptions about that
particular case. So they looked for very complicated and interesting cases that they
might be able to use to study. The class operated mostly on a discussion basis.
You read the case, you drew up a set of assumptions, you went to class and
discussed all the various solutions. The class is supposed to solve the problems
presented by the faculty. That is the way the business school works, I understand.
The art institute was structured like that.
The cases, I thought, were relatively rudimentary because they were just getting
started, so I was not too interested in them. What got interesting was when all of us
were asked to write cases.
M: From your own experience?
B: [From our own experience, or out of our imagination. They selected the case I
devised, of] all of the cases submitted, as one [of three] they wanted to put into class
discussion. So the last couple of weeks of the program my case and a couple of
others were treated with great attention. I was very flattered. Eventually they
included it in the Harvard Art Institute case book as a permanent case study. I set
up this really interesting scenario between a museum and a group of working artists
[in which] the museum was trying to figure out a way to subsidize them, to give them
an opportunity, yet stay out of their artistic choices. There are lots of things that flow
both ways in that relationship. It made an interesting case because it had to be
looked at from management and client viewpoints. They liked it, and they used it,
and it survived.
The institute, I think, lasted only about six years. Then the business school decided
that it was not going anywhere, that the program did not have much ...
B: It did not have enough application, so that method did not work that well. The
disciplines were too broad and the subject was too vague, so they kind of got out of
the art administration institute business. But it was an interesting experience for me,
and it was also useful. Quite honestly, the Harvard label was very helpful. It made
an impression on my next museum search committee that I had had this experience
and that I had taken the initiative to go off and gain additional training. As I said, I
learned a lot in the institute, but it was as much just the opportunity to share
experiences with other people in a pretty hermetic environment as it was to go
through any kind of structured program.
M: I want to jump ahead here and ask: What steps have you taken now about an art
business administration museum?
B: Well, there are a lot [of existing programs] in the country. In fact, more universities
have museum training programs than you would guess. A lot of them are not well
known, but I think you can get certain elements of the discipline anywhere in the
country. There are some that are highly regarded. I have not spent a lot of time
studying the best ones, but some are well known. [The University of California at]
Berkeley has an arts management institute that is very highly regarded, and the
museum studies program at the University of Delaware is very highly regarded.
There are places where there are specialties, like George Washington University in
Washington [DC, which] offers an M.A.T., a master's in teaching, that is rooted in
museum education, as opposed to just teaching as such. So if you have a certain
kind of track that you are on, there are certain schools that are known for fitting into
a certain program.
At [the University of] Florida there has been a museum studies course within the
College of Fine Arts for a number of years. It has not led to a degree, because they
do not have the faculty and there has not been a laboratory. What we are doing
right now is talking to the College of Fine Arts about the museum and the college
going together in a program that will expand that to a track within the art history
program, so that you can take an art history degree but would have a museum track.
That track would give you maybe two or three courses, an internship in this
museum, an opportunity to work specifically on a project that would lead to some
result and that you would be able to come out with some practical experience as
well as some theoretical experience. So that is one thing we are working on.
The College of Fine Arts is also working with the College of Business Administration
on putting together an arts administration program which would draw on a business
background--accounting, financial management--and fine arts combinations. They
are two different ideas. One is arts administration, which means you could direct a
symphony orchestra or you could run a theater company or, specifically, museum
work. That track is more oriented toward the curatorial, scholarly research, and
exhibition activities. So they are very different. Both of them are in development at
the University of Florida; they are not there yet.
M: How much longer do you think it will be?
B: This year was the first time that the museum studies program appeared in the
catalog, so there is now a course with an internship at the museum this year. You
can take the course in the fall and the internship in the spring. We have one
candidate. The museum has a limit on the number of candidates it can take
because we just do not have unlimited people to supervise. We do not know what
the maximum number will be, but so far the one is the test. If we have six we might
have to decide to do something different. It is very hard to answer that question
because the dean and I have not worked out a lot of the details about how we will
instruct the course. But I would say that something very recognizable should be
here in three years.
M: OK. I have one more question about your painting career: Did you dabble? Did you
experiment with that, or did you let your other duties take over? Did you begin to
B: I stopped cold. I moved a lot of dried and hardened brushes around for about four
or five years, and then I just finally threw them away. I kept a lot of my canvases
and paintings until 1976. In 1976 I destroyed about two-thirds of the remaining
work. I specifically destroyed anything with my name on it, because if I was a
growing museum professional judging other people's art I did not want someone to
come across a bad work of my own and figure that was a measure of my taste. So I
felt it was harmful to me to have this evidence around that I was not a very good
painter--I did not think so. In 1982 I went another round of destruction and
destroyed all but maybe a handful of works. Those mostly were saved by my wife
who would just not let me get rid of those.
[M: Tell me about your wife.
B: I married Julia Moss Crowder of Harriman, Tennessee, in 1968, the second year
after I went into museum work. She had studied art at the University of Tennessee
and was working in radio in Nashville when we married.
Anyway,] she saved them [my few paintings] and protected them, and now I am
actually sorry that I did not save a few more. I have come back around and now
appreciate some of my accomplishments in that period that I did not appreciate at
the time. I gave a group of works to Shorter College for their collection, and I have a
handful of works that I still have in my home. They all belong to my wife. I still do
not think I got anywhere very much as a visual artist. They are technically
accomplished, but there just is not much significance to them.
I do not do any painting now. I have hobbies that I use my painting skills for, but I
do not paint. In fact, I do not consider that to be anything but recreation. If I were to
be a painter, I would expect to have to give it absolutely 100 percent to be any good,
so anything short of that, I think, is just cluttering up the landscape. There is plenty
of bad art all over the place. There is no reason to contribute to it.
M: I saw that you received an award for a Henry Moore exhibition poster. What was
B: Well, in 1984 we were doing a Henry Moore show in Columbus. We did a
magnificent show surveying his accomplishments with the reclining figure all the way
through his career, from the very earliest in the late 1920s and early 1930s all the
way to the 1980s. I knew him. I had been in his studio in England a couple of
times. We had worked with his foundation and his family in acquiring some
sculptures for our museum, and he had ultimately given us a piece.
M: Was this in Chattanooga?
B: This is the Columbus Museum of Art. We had acquired a major piece by him
through his gallery in London, and then I went there to learn more about him. In the
process I got to know him, and eventually he gave us [the museum] a small bronze
that was a maquette for a large piece we had acquired. Getting a gift from Henry
Moore was a very big highlight in my life. He was one of the most important
legendary [art] figures I ever got to know personally. He was already in his late
seventies when I first met him.
We were working on this exhibition, and we had this huge grant, the largest grant I
have ever gotten for any one project. I had gotten it from the Sohio Oil Company in
Cleveland for this exhibition, and we had the money to do a marvelous catalog and
money to do a traveling show that had all of its own display cases. I mean, it was
really a luxurious exercise in ideal exhibition design.
We hired a photographer named Frank Lerner. Frank was a New Yorker who had
moved to Columbus, Ohio, because he was sick of the pressures of New York, and
he still could do the same commissions in Columbus and live a much more delightful
life. So Frank was hired as a photographer. He did mostly fashion and still-life
photography for products. I wanted a really glamorous photograph for our Henry
Moore poster, so we took a reclining figure belonging to a local couple that was a
manageable size out to Frank's studio. He put a lot of wonderful lighting on it and a
wonderful background on it and got a stupendous photograph of this reclining figure,
just beautifully lighted and colored. He and I sat down together and conceived the
way we would print the poster using that photograph. We picked the typeface and
colors, and we oversaw the printing run and everything. So he and I were credited
with the co-design of the poster. It was entered in a couple of competitions and won
awards. I will show it to you; I have a copy here.
M: Now, is that a Henry Moore in your office?
B: No. I do not know where mine is. I had it in [the] curatorial [offices]. I will have to
go look for it. I have a framed copy of it. Actually it is not earth shattering as a
design, but it is a good-looking poster because the photograph is so spectacular.
M: What was he [Henry Moore] like when you got to know him personally?
B: He was very gentle and very absorbed in his work, and he worked constantly.
Although he was arthritic and frail, he would go into his studio and work hard every
day. He worked with these little tiny pieces of [wet] plaster, and he would shape
them. His studio was full of little images, of bones and little bits of wood and things
he got inspiration from. I remember my wife shook hands with him when she met
him. He had plaster on his hands, and she did not want to wash the plaster off
because she had plaster on her hands from Henry Moore, right off one of his
sculptures. Then he had a lot of help and assistants to enlarge the pieces and to
execute the work. But he was very intense about his work. I remember he just
loved to sit and chat with visitors. He was not the least bit self-important. He would
ask you what your interests were. He asked me if I like [French painter Paul]
Cezanne, and I said, "That is a very obvious question." He said that he had a
favorite painting. As is turned out, he owned a little Cezanne, and he wanted us to
go into the house and see it. It was a beautiful little painting of three women bathing
in a lake. He had been so fascinated with the plastic qualities of Cezanne's painting
that he had tried to make a Henry Moore in three dimensions of that Cezanne
painting of the three figures. He had done it very faithfully to the style of Cezanne
except it was in three dimensions.
M: And he owned that personally?
B: Yes. He just had it there at the studio. He wanted to talk about the whole notion of
the dimensionality of sculpture versus painting. He liked to engage in those kinds of
conversations. He would suddenly then look out [the window]. He had sheep out in
the meadow on his estate, and he made them a big sculpture called The Sheep
Piece which he put out there so they would have something to rub up against and
relate to. It sat out in this marvelous sheep pasture; this great Henry Moore
[sculpture] was their piece.
He was a very sweet, unpretentious, and very warm person. Tiny. Most people
think of sculptors as big, powerful, macho people. Henry Moore was quiet, gentle,
soft-spoken, and very small in stature. But look at the work.
M: What are your duties as senior accreditation examiner for the American Association
of Museums [AAM]?
B: The AAM about 1970 put into effect an accreditation program for the first time. In
order to make it credible they set up a commission which established minimum
standards for the way a museum should be operated on every level, from security to
physical facility to staff preparation to conduct of business to financial management--
the whole thing. Then they recruited museum people--directors especially, but also
curators and other people--to go to regional centers for accreditation training. We all
volunteered our time to go help the field. We all went to these training centers and
acquired the basic information about accreditation. Then we were sent out as teams
to accredit museums.
We would go in for two or three days at the host museum's expense and examine
every aspect of their operation. We wrote extensive criticisms and reports on the
museum. All of this would go to the accreditation commission, which was made up
of a sort of super panel or supreme court. They would review the visiting
committee's report and then decide whether or not to grant accreditation to the
museum. If they found some things lacking in the reports, they would withhold and
make the museum correct the problem. So that all took place and went forward,
and hundreds of museums were accredited between 1972 and 1982.
In 1982 the accreditation commission decided that the 1972 accreditation was now a
decade old and would probably be invalid, that there probably were changes that
had happened in those museums. Some may had gotten worse, and some may
had gotten better. [The commission felt that] they needed to be reaccredited every
ten years. For reaccreditation they chose senior people, people who had done a lot
of accreditation, people who had done a lot of the visits, to be senior examiners.
Those senior examiners were sent single-handedly, by themselves, back to the
1972 museums, and the one person, the senior examiner, would go in and again
look at the original report, at the original performance; see of the museum had
improved, stayed the same, or gotten worse; and then file a report with the
accreditation commission. They would then either suspend accreditation or re-grant
accreditation. So senior examiner became a very responsible position in the
accreditation process, because you really were life and death of a major museum
that had been counting on accreditation.
M: Now, does this have any kind of government connection?
B: No. The accreditation program was the private association of museums' effort to
create a standard that would be helpful to the whole field. We all volunteered our
time; none of us received any compensation for it. Our expenses were paid by the
host museum. The whole thing was based on sort of industrywide cooperation, and
all of us worked on it in order to be a more measurable and creditable field so that if
the government wanted to give grants, or if the NEA wanted to ask ...
M: Is that the criterion now?
B: It is not a rigid criterion, but it certainly is a huge asset. It is a big asset in exhibition
exchange. If you are not accredited nowadays, then that raises immediate
questions about the standards in your museum. If you have not tried to be
accredited, it raises questions about what you consider your priorities. If you have
been accredited, then it says that you have gone through the process, you know
what the issues are, and your facility has been judged. You cannot rely entirely on
accreditation, because not everybody is ready at any one given moment. So
museums that exchange exhibits also exchange facilities reports, which are
examined by the registrar. That is just a report on whether or not you can manage
or accommodate, in a secure and professional way, the exhibition--how secure your
galleries are, your lighting controls, your climate controls, and all that. It is a
Of course, that is a part of accreditation, but accreditation is broader. It even
examines the role between the staff and the board, the board's view of its
responsibilities for the development of the institution. I just did an accreditation in
Texas, a successful one, and I had one other committee member. Depending on
the size of the institution, you have more or fewer members of the committee. You
never have only one person; there is a minimum of two and a maximum of four or
five. In a really big museum you take five people over and divide up the
responsibilities: somebody takes business, somebody takes curatorial, somebody
takes physical facility, somebody takes development and board relations or
whatever. They examine them and come back together and file a joint report. It is
an interesting process.
Of course, it helped me. As a young director I worked very hard. I must have done
fifteen or twenty accreditation visits. Every time I went into a museum that was
different from mine and looked at what their problems were and how they were
solving their problems, I would come home with fresh insights.
M: And, of course, you applied them to this museum. You probably took the best of
B: From twenty-six years. So a lot of things that were fundamentally wrong with
museums in the past, part of that accumulated roster of negatives turned hopefully
into a positive here.
M: Were you able to carry through with what you have learned, or did you find that you
had to ...
B: You cannot ever apply any one idea to a different situation. Everything is site-
specific, I have learned. You cannot build a museum for Ohio in Florida; you cannot
build a Florida museum in Texas. The conditions--not only the climate conditions
but the cultural conditions--are so specific to each location that you have to respond
to the local conditions, whatever they are. I have said in three different museums
that I did not create those museums. It appeared that the director was choosing and
planning and making decisions about where the institution was going to go, but in
fact I have always said that the institutions that I wound up with always existed in
that community. It was a matter of what you drew out and what you emphasized
and what you nurtured and encouraged. But it was there already. You could not
make it. You could not bring something from the outside and force it on the
situation. That is absolutely true.
This museum reflects a lot of my experience and a lot of the frustrations that I have
known that exist in the museum field in terms of building design and structure and
reporting mechanisms and so forth, but it is still specific to this location, to being at
the University of Florida, to happening in the year it happened. It is not a 1970s
museum, and it is not a 2001 museum. It is a 1990 museum. Even that conditions
the difference in the architecture, the difference in the structure of the staff. In 1980
I would have a very different staff than I have in 1990, and in 2001 the staff will be
different. The issues facing the museum will be different, the way we address our
audience will be different, and the availability of exhibits will be different. It changes
from decade to decade.
M: What angle is the museum concentrating on? Contemporary art?
B: We have written a very broad and not very specific mission statement which says
that the fundamental nature of this museum's exhibitions program, which of course
includes what you do with the collections, because that is what you exhibit as well, is
to be culturally as diverse as possible and to embrace as broad a historical span as
possible. So we have kept it very, very broad and very, very general on purpose, for
some very good reasons. Because of the nature of this museum and the way it was
founded and the way it fits into a university, we think that is the way to go. Because
the University is, if you think about it, completely inclusive. Every single subject
from the history of mankind is being taught at the University--history of the ancient
world, history of the modern world, politics, sociology, cultures of all kinds,
languages, literature. If we chose [to concentrate on] contemporary art, [for
example,] we would leave out huge segments of the campus that would never find
anything to relate to at the museum.
[Reason] number two, the possibility of a very diverse exhibition schedule, is
interesting, because it means that there is some good reason to come back to the
museum, [that there is] a lot to see. Traveling exhibitions can take the place of
permanent collections, which are very expensive to develop and maintain. A
traveling exhibition can bring in a superlative exhibit of that material for at least a
temporary period that will cover, say, the ancient world. We are about to do that.
We are bringing in Greek and Roman art. We cannot afford to buy and keep that,
but we can bring it in temporarily for study. So we have elected to be very diverse
and very, very broad historically.
We feel that what will happen to this museum by being that broad is it will be
narrowed by circumstances. Rather than artificially narrowing its focus, rather than
saying, "It is going to be this and this and this," I would prefer for evolution to take
care of that. The strong departments that are interested in the museum will start
contributing ideas. Collectors will come to us with certain kinds of materials that will
start sending us in certain directions. Over a twenty- or twenty-five- or thirty-year
period this blank canvas will get written upon by all kinds of people who will take it in
some direction. But I think it would be too exclusive for me to make those choices at
the outset because I might shut out something that is out there that I do not know
about. So I have kept it deliberately fluid. It is my way of giving this institution, this
young, fledgling museum, the greatest chance in life.
M: Talk about the museum collection. I know from the [University] Gallery there are
already collections established.
B: Not just the Gallery, but that was, of course, a major part of it. The Gallery was also
a receptacle or vehicle. Some of the collections that came in came in from efforts
other than the University Gallery. But the Gallery assumed the responsibility for at
least keeping the records on everything.
M: Where did they store everything?
B: It was everywhere. It was in offices, it was hung in Tigert Hall, part of the collections
were hung in the [J. Wayne] Reitz Union, for heaven's sakes. That is why some
things have disappeared. There were [a few] storerooms; there [also] were
warehouses where things were stacked in un-air conditioned storage. It was an
M: For how many years was this going on?
B: The Gallery was founded in 1965. [It is still operating, although I have taken over
the collections part in 1987.] A lot of the collections came as gifts to the University
of Florida. Someone would give a painting or ...
M: And they were all kept. They were not traded or exchanged.
B: Not for the most part. They were just accumulated. Actually, if the Gallery had had
better storage we would have more interesting collections, because they could have
taken more. I suspect that there was not any active accumulating program because
there was no place to put anything. So we got things that were sort of pushed upon
us, as well, actively pushed on us. There were a few places [or art collectors of high
quality] that donated works to the University for study, like William and Eloise
Chandler in Gainesville, who gave us a number of American paintings, or [local]
collections developed by Professor Robin Poynor in African art. The African studies
program put up some money to buy some objects so they would have them on hand
for students to look at. Some of those have come to us. There were just so many
different forces going on. The law school would get gifts from lawyers who would
give the law school something to hang in the law school, and in some cases we
would want it.
Eventually, when the museum came along, as early as five years ago, after I got
here and started looking at what was here, we became a magnet for new collections
that were offered to us, and we created some temporary storage areas to make the
opportunity to take all these collections during the five years leading up to the
opening, because we could see that it was going to build up.
M: Was that when you got the Chandler collection?
B: [No. That came between 1980-1985. After 1987 there were gifts of] Chinese
ceramics, a jade collection, and numbers of smaller group gifts. Of course,
Professor [Roy C.] Craven [professor of art] was in touch with collectors like the
Needham family [in Jacksonville] who had been giving him things over the years in
his area of interest, the art of India, and they continued to make gifts following those.
There had been a purchase program for ceramics where the College of Fine Arts
had bought modern ceramics for a collection to give students access to study
ceramics. We inherited that. There are fifteen or sixteen pieces in that. It is like the
University attic--it just grew and grew and grew.
Our job is to discriminate. What we are doing--and we are still doing it with a great
deal of care and caution--first is to catalog everything. We took the catalogs of the
[University] Gallery and have them converted to our system, and we have located
everything in that catalog. That is a very big undertaking. [There are] thousands of
M: Do you have a special computer system for that?
B: Yes. There are standard software for that, and we have had all of our collections
put on an international standard software that gives us access [to data bases
containing information on other museum holdings and collections], and we can also
provide information [to sources] outside the museum if we had to. We then went
through the location process, which means identifying something connected to every
Now we are looking at condition and quality so that at some point before the
museum is more than two years old we will probably recommend to the University a
very important step in the collections as a one-time, sort of historical adjustment,
and we will remove and either dispose of or in some way cease to be responsible for
one group of objects which will be not [of] museum quality. We might be able to sell
them and take the revenues and put them in the collections. We do not know yet
what the University will decide, because it is property of the University. Then we will
be left with a core collection judged to be minimally good for a museum, and that will
be a starting point. I do not see us at a starting point yet. We are still getting to the
starting point in collections.
M: Now, do you have funding to continue with art collection?
B: Yes. We already have over $150,000 in an endowment for acquisition. We have
already acquired a work with the income from that endowment, the [Elmer] Novotny
painting [a self-portrait]. Novotny is still alive. The painting was made in 1933, and
it was our first active purchase of a painting to fit with the pictures the Chandlers
donated over the years, mostly realist art [completed] between the two world wars in
the United States.
At the very outset of the building of the museum we liked that goddess Islandia by
Audrey Flack, a plaster work. We brought it down on loan for the opening
exhibitions and then kept it here because we wanted to have it. The [David] Cofrin
family, the ones who helped found the museum, joined together and bought it for us
as the initial donation, so it was the very first work we acquired by purchase through
the Cofrin donation after the museum opened.
Before the museum opened we had acquired a painting by Carl Holty and a painting
by Richard Morris Hunt that was painted in Florida, and we had acquired a Herman
Herzog at auction, thanks to gifts from individuals. When I saw something back in
1987 or 1988 that I could see was going to be applicable to this museum, we went
ahead and asked somebody to help us get it. So we acquired a few little things. We
have not done a lot of buying, and we do not even have plans to do that yet.
As we are speaking--this is February 27, 1992--next month we will be announcing a
$1 million gift to the museum's acquisitions endowment. We have in the wings two
different pledges--they are pledges at this point--that have been made as
irrevocable commitments for another $750,000. We can count them, but we will not
have [immediate] use of the money. Our original goal for acquisitions endowment
was $2 million minimum, which would give us around $100,000 to $125,000 a year
to buy art, and we are almost there already.
M: What is your direction for buying art?
B: We will probably build on the existing strength. If we have Chinese ceramics we will
buy Chinese ceramics. We might also buy Japanese ceramics because of the way
they relate to Chinese ceramics. And [we might buy] Korean ceramics because they
fit with Japanese and Chinese. But you build outward from an existing collection,
usually. We will work on American paintings, especially the realist tradition, because
that is characteristic of what we have. We will work on the art of India, pre-
Columbian, African--all of the areas in which we already have collections we will
continue to build, because the core museum philosophy is "build on strength." It is
very hard to initiate with small amounts of money a completely new direction. But
then if a collection comes in from a donor, we might, after we receive what you
might call a critical mass of material, then start adding to that.
M: Like the Skowhegan collection? [Skowhegan is a school of painting and sculpture in
Maine. To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the school, a national competition
was held in 1986 for artists who had studied at Skowhegan the previous decade.
The Ham Museum received a collection of fifty-one contemporary American works
and developed an exhibition called "Skowhegan--A Ten-Year Retrospective, 1975-
B: I doubt if we would ever [actively try to] buy contemporary, because contemporary is
something you can continue to get donated from many sources. The NEA is
probably going to support some acquisitions in that area, and collectors tend to want
to give away [artworks by] younger artists they are collecting because putting them
in museums enhances the recognition of the artist and is at the same time self-
serving on the part of the collectors, who are enhancing their own collections.
Contemporary art is too much of a gamble with museum funds because it is
impossible even for the most astute professional to really know which contemporary
artwork to buy. So we would tend to buy conservatively as a museum in fields that
are well tested, where the scholarship is very sound, where we know the value.
Contemporary art is too risky for us, with small amounts of money. But it is not an
area we would not actively develop. We would just have to develop it with different
techniques. When I said you go out and look for money, you do not just go out and
look for cash. You also go out and look for works of art that are the replacement of
M: Things to be donated?
M: Does the University influence the exhibition policy?
B: Only by its nature. The University has given me no directives about exhibition
policy. They have left the development of that entirely up to me and the staff. I
have allowed the University's influence on the exhibition policy by listening very
closely to what I thought was the collective voice of the University. I think that a
good museum tries to be responsive to its primary audience, so if people say: "I
really love that old master exhibition. I wish we had an opportunity to see more of
that," then I put that into part of the mix. But we look at the University's strengths
and what it is all about. [We look at] students and what their needs are. What is
being studied at the University? What can be an art exhibit that will take advantage
of that situation? Being at a university is very much an integral part of any kind of
programming decision we make. As a community institution, it means that the [non-
student] audience out there simply gets the dividend of whatever we are doing.
M: Dr. Craven was talking in the early proposals about Caribbean art. Do we have a
B: I have a problem with folk art the way I do with contemporary in that the standards in
folk art are very slippery. It has instant appeal, and it certainly has a place in a
temporary exhibitions program. But collecting it is problematic from many
standpoints: the quality issues, cultural context, permanence, and especially
conservation. A lot of folk art, such as art from the Caribbean, is susceptible to a lot
of different forms of deterioration. It is not necessarily well crafted. So I have a
problem with that. That was an idea he had; I think he was heading in that direction
as a person. That just shows you how institutions change with the personalities of
the people in charge.
The Florida Museum of Natural History has the most important Caribbean collection
on the eastern seaboard. Its focus is the Caribbean, and if you were going to have
a complementary art museum you would say, "Well, it ought to have Caribbean art
to complement Caribbean natural history and history." I think folk art almost belongs
more in a history museum than it does in an art museum.
We are doing an exhibition of folk art in the summer, the Geoffrey Holder collection,
the famous Caribbean artist, dancer, choreographer. He has a huge collection, and
we are taking that on tour with the opportunity for this audience to see it. But I do
not think we are prepared yet to make permanent collections.
M: Will the Har [Museum] expand its education department, or will it rely on the fine
arts department at the University to provide instruction?
B: That is a tough question. First of all, the museum already has a much larger
education staff than a conventional university museum. If you compare us to all the
other university museums of comparable size, we have much more emphasis on the
education programs than most university museums. In addition to that, we draw
heavily on the faculty at the University for additional things. But the staff we have,
rather than generating education, are administrators and facilitators and creators
who think up programs. Then we staff them from a variety of ways. There is a lot of
talent at the University. This museum also has an unusually heavy emphasis on
public education--education for K-12 and other types of audiences than many
M: How do you develop your film and lecture series? Was there a lot of input from
B: Again, it is [a case of] responding to the interests that are already there. If we have
a Latin American studies program and a program in the study of various cultures,
then it just automatically means we are going to bring in a Latin American film
series, or [what have you]. We have tried to address film as an art form rather than
cultural, social, or political entertainment, so we try to show films that have been
self-consciously created as art. We show a lot more unknown film-makers, a lot
more unusual kinds of film series, because we are trying to keep everything we do in
the museum on the level of art, as opposed to documentary or entertainment or
fiction. We try to deal with it on an art level.
M: Do you take into consideration ethnic or political aims when you are considering
B: Yes. Not exclusively and not overwhelmingly, but any institution that is trying to
serve a broad audience and be truly accessible has to take a lot of different
questions into account when programming. I think we have become extraordinarily
successful at understanding multicultural issues and issues of diversity. Our
programs department, our education department, has some people who are
extremely well versed in the subject. I have spent a lot of time on the subject. I just
came back (last weekend) from moderating a panel in the Atlantic Center for the
Arts, where we had a range of speakers from Harvey Gant, the former candidate for
senator against Senator Jesse Helms in North Carolina who is a black man, to
American Indians, socialists, feminists, and Hispanic interests. We had a whole
range of representatives of all of these various cultural entities who all came
together in a constructive way to talk about the issues of multiculturalism and the
applications of issues behind it.
I think a museum ought to be in the forefront of that, not because it is politically
correct or because it is politically expedient but because we are learning through this
process how wrong we have been sometimes in the way we have done things and
that there are better ways to do it, especially when you are producing exhibitions
and presenting cultures of various races and religions. I think that a museum is a
place where a lot of these issues come together, and I think we have to be very
knowledgeable, very sharp, and very current in how we are looking at all of these
things. It is a very fundamental part of all of our deliberations--to whom it will play,
whom it will attract, and how it will serve. We are not trying to change political
viewpoints. We are not trying to flaunt a particular agenda.
M: You are just trying to reflect them.
B: We are just trying to respond to the number and the variety of things going on in our
society and address all of them. We want to have an audience that is as good a mix
as it is in the actual population. We want to serve everybody, and we want
everybody to feel welcome in the museum. That is not an easy thing to do in an art
museum, because art museums are traditionally associated so much with elite
M: Now, how are the budget cuts going to impact the museum?
B: They are going to show up in three or four years. It is a lot like running into a table
and not having the bruise develop for two or three days. The bruises are going to
show in the long-range museum activities. The first round of cuts took out all of
what we call R & D, research and development. We had to give up all of the time
we were devoting to future exhibits, to future projects. We had to give all of those
up because we had to stick to basics with what staff we had left. A lot of our OPS
funding [outside personnel services], which we used to hire people on a project-by-
project basis for certain long-term things, [dried up, so they] had to be let go. [We
will only begin to see the effects of this in] the voids in our schedule three years from
now. We cannot just start a project overnight if the funding comes back. So the
shows that we thought about doing, would like to have done, and need the research
done now are not going to show up in three or four years. That is the first round.
The second round--more heartbreaking--is the fact that the museum is having to
give up so much of its free educational materials. Up until the most recent round of
cuts we were committed to a philosophy that free materials about the exhibitions
that you can take away with you and study at your own leisure or even use as
research material or to keep and reflect on and reread [were crucial to our
educational goals]. The shelf life of those creative materials is hard to measure, but
it is very powerful in terms of the effect it has on education. So giving away free
materials to us is very, very important. This year we have had to take all of those
out. Labels and installation information instead [are the only source of data for the
visitor]. That is not nearly as effective, in my view, because you have to copy it
down or you have to read it while you are here and then remember it when you go
away. You do not have something that you [can] take [with] you that you can
refresh your memory with. I feel like we are losing a big, big part of the fundamental
We will still be doing our job. We will still be doing exhibits, and we will still be
providing the information--except I do not like the form in which we can afford to do
it. If we got our cuts restored, that would be the first thing we would put back in the
M: Is there any type of program that educates the educators at the University, in other
words, that informs them about the history of the current exhibits so they can take
that information to their students?
B: Not at the university level, but we do have a public school teacher training program
in which we really do spend a lot of time with the public school teachers--art
teachers and non-art teachers--with training in the museum's collections so that they
can enhance the educational experience and expand on what the kids get in a visit
or two to the museum. It is harder to be specific with educators at the university
level because they are dealing with theoretical education, not with the subject
matter, and museums deal more with the subject matter orientation. Our impact on
a university professor tends to be in where that person's subject matter interest
converges with the museum. For example, we have a collection of art of India, and
professors of religion want to bring classes over to study certain objects that reflect
religious beliefs--not art beliefs, not art subjects. So when there is an interest in a
particular subject, we may be able to link up with that in surprising ways.
As a matter of fact, we have not yet worked out a working relationship with the
College of Education where they might use us as one form of laboratory for learning.
There have been some studies that say that young people in an art museum
environment develop unusual language skills because they have to verbalize
abstract concepts in ways that are unique to an art museum. When they come into
an art museum and talk about the art objects, they have to call out of their
imagination language and terminology and descriptions they do not have to use
anywhere else, so it is very good for language development, for communications.
There are theories that that might be a really great opportunity for art museums to
participate more specifically in the education process.
M: Are the performers and the performances that are put on here directly related to the
B: Well, no. Let me see if I can organize it very quickly. There are three (maybe more
than three, but at least three) different philosophies at work with our performing
series. One is that we are going to be cooperating with the performing arts center.
We are going to be hosting some performances that are too small in scale for the
performing arts center, where they would get an audience too small for their space
and our space may be perfect for it. So in effect we are taking over a part of the
performing arts series, perse. As a matter of fact, the performing arts center will be
actually acting as the sponsor of some of those, but they want them in our facility.
That is related to the second thing, which is the performances and activities we do
through our program department. These are designed to do two things. One is they
are designed to draw a different kind of audience. They expand and augment the
kind of people who would come to the art museum, per se, by having a different
discipline attraction. We try to make them relate to something culturally that is going
on either in the exhibitions or in the collections or in the University program as a
whole. So they have a dual role. The performing arts series, per se, will have an
attraction role. Hopefully, if we have a musical event it can also relate in some way
to something going on in the galleries.
The third role is specifically to alter the traditional learning process of the museum to
another plane. The third role for the performing arts is to introduce a different
dimension into learning about things in a museum. Let me see if I can amplify that;
let me give you one example. The Caribbean, for example. We are going to have
this "Spirits" exhibition. It is a mixture of objects and fetishes and things that have
magical or spiritual qualities.
B: There are apparently some things coming from that. That is not the term they use in
the catalog. Voodoo is apparently a very vulgarized version of what they actually
use as the word--footoo, or something like that. Anyway, we will have musicians
playing modern music derived from ancient African influences that will show the
African migration from Africa into the Caribbean. We will also have story telling,
which is an African tradition, but story telling about Caribbean stories that may
indeed relate directly to objects that are in the exhibition.
Last of all, we may have activities in which people can create objects similar to the
objects that we have in the exhibition. There are many ways of learning about those
objects, or taking those objects as a starting point for a learning process and not
focusing exclusively on just those objects but also on the cultural context.
So the performing arts for us are a vehicle. They are a supplement to the visual
arts; they are not a replacement. They are an enhancement, and they are an
important audience-building device that also has educational implications.
M: When you were choosing the staff, how did you go about [selecting them]?
Personality and diversity?
B: Well, I used the standard systems. We advertised a lot of positions broadly--
nationally in some cases. It depends on the position. With certain of the roles in the
museum we knew that we could find someone locally. All we had to do was be very
careful, was to write the job descriptions very clearly and spell out what we needed
very cleanly, and we could find somebody without having to advertize nationally.
We took local and national applicants at face value; we did not give any weight to a
national applicant versus a local applicant for any job. We knew there were some
positions--business officer, the registrar--that we could probably find someone
already here in Gainesville who had all of the things that we wanted. We just had to
find them. The curators, because those have educational requirements and
experience requirements, we felt would be national searches, because we just did
not feel the pool of curators in Gainesville would be big enough to make a choice
without at least looking at the "national picture." We needed someone who knew all
about exhibitions and had a lot of experience with them, who knew about the issues,
and the pool would be so small in Gainesville for that specific [position] because
there was not a museum here. If there had been already two or three museums
here--not just some small galleries but some museums like this--[it would have been
different]. If you look now, there are twenty-six people here who have museum
experience instead of a handful. It depended a great deal on the pool, and
everybody went through personnel in one way or another. Personnel was invaluable
in providing basic evaluations. Then, with my experience, I would interview the
M: What part of the job do you enjoy the most?
B: It is a package, but if I had to say anything that I enjoy the most about what I have
done with the field, it has been the acquisitions. There is no question that the pure,
vicarious pleasure of this work is that you get to spend fairly large sums of money
compared to your own wealth on beautiful things or important things or important
cultural things and get to acquire them and bring them into a collection and watch
that grow. I think that a lot of people attracted to the field enjoy that process. They
would do it in their own lives if they could afford to, and it is a great vicarious
opportunity to do it in the museum. I have done lectures called "Other People's
Money" before that Broadway play of the same title, because just in listening to my
background you can see that in acquiring the taste and the knowledge of the objects
I would still be as far away from them as ever if I were not also in a role of collecting
and taking care of them. So that association with the objects is very, very
fundamental to me. It cannot be substituted.
The four years that I was in an office in Gainesville without a museum, perse, were
four of the driest years of my life, because I was not pursuing objects all the time. I
was not out there in a gallery. If I have a moment when I am frustrated or something
is not going right, I get up and walk out into the galleries and look at something.
That is what makes me recharge. The better the collection the more interesting that
On another level, building the museum as a whole was also very rewarding for me,
seeing it all grow--the staff get better at what they are doing, coming up with
surprisingly new ideas, the building working as it should, the audience coming in in
the numbers it is coming in in, and they obviously are enjoying it or attaching some
real value to it. All of that is the payback, so it is really hard to divide it into
segments. You have to have the financial things in place; you have to have a good,
well-run security program; you have to have a good physical plant; you have to have
a great exhibits program and education program. Take any one part away and it is
like trying to make a chair stand up on one leg or two legs: it just does not work. So
I see it as a holistic thing, but fundamentally it is the acquisitiveness, it is the objects
that belong to us specifically, as opposed to anybody else that I care very much
The kind of thing that ultimately comes back to me as indicative of how the museum
can affect a person's life is just a very simple story, and this is a sample. It is a very
common kind of experience. In Chattanooga I hired an electrician to fix the track
lighting in the galleries. He was up on the ladder working on the system, and he had
a young nineteen-year-old assistant who was holding the ladder and fetching the
hammer or screwdriver or whatever. This kid was just some very poorly educated
hill child from some family around Chattanooga. He probably had been working for
three or four years. He was completely mesmerized. While he was holding the
ladder for the electrician, he was looking around the museum, around the galleries.
He said to me, "What is this place?" I said, "It is an art museum." He said, "Is this
the way it always looks?" and I said: "Yes, this is the way it always looks. We
change the stuff around, but we have these things here for you to look at." He said,
"Is it OK for me to go around and look?" I said: "Of course it is OK for you to go
around and look. That is what it is here for."
When they were finished with their work, the older man--I thought that was kind of
nice of him--let him stay in the museum and look around. He asked me questions,
and I went around with him. You know, I saw him coming back. I would be at the
museum on the weekends, and I would see him in the galleries. He found
something that he did not know existed in the world, and it made a direct connection
with him. I felt that just changing that one person's life was worth all the work.
We have seen so many examples of that kind of thing, where people do get direct
information; they get direct impressions. They do not need the education
necessarily to connect with objects. They just need the opportunity. One of the
most interesting things about museum work is the number of people, the variety of
people, and the amazing range of people that are served in some hard-to-measure
way but are served by what we do. That really makes me keep going.
M: This has been an interview with Mr. Budd Harris Bishop. Mr. Bishop is the director
of the Harn Museum of Art. My name is Carol MacDonald.