The immediate past has been brought into focus by The Independent's articles. The museum, however, is rooted in an exhibition program begun in the 1950s in an improvised hallway gallery that was literally just that, a simple space frame in the hallway in a department with no space to spare. When the department inherited one of the older buildings on campus, a boiler room was found to be just right for conversion into a gallery. It was named the University Gallery of Fine Arts and became a lively part of university life.
In 1959, there was a limited budget for exhibitions of any kind. Fred Daspit, a fine arts faculty member, became gallery director and through his downright heroic efforts kept the gallery operative. Dr. Warren Robison, then director of the school of art and architecture, cooperated by creating a broad-reaching "Art in the South" program that sponsored exhibitions by Southern artists in the gallery.
The art and architecture building, Brown Ayres Hall, burned in 1972, and again there was no exhibition space until Fletcher Hall was completed. Herman Mhire was asked to serve as director. As space was found in the new building, Mhire was able to bring the exhibition program to a point at which it could be developed into a fully functioning university museum. He did that and created an exhibition program of regional significance, award-winning publications and contact with museums and artists here and in Europe. He then ' with the generosity of the Hilliards, others and the initial enthusiastic support of the university ' was able to guide the development of the new museum building through to a successful award-winning finish.
This museum and the hard won success of the dedicated people who made it possible can be all for nothing if the university insists on treating the museum as an expensive "overachievement," instead of the real asset it is for a university engaged in a pursuit of excellence.
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