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University of New Hampshire shutters Museum of Art on Durham campus

With approximately 2,500 objects in its collection, the museum has had its own dedicated space on campus since 1960

The University of New Hampshire has permanently closed the Museum of Art on its Durham campus.University of New Hampshire.

The University of New Hampshire has permanently closed the Museum of Art on its Durham campus, a casualty of declining enrollment and budget cuts.

The closure comes amid a broader retrenchment at the university, which is laying off or reducing the hours of approximately 75 employees as it seeks to shrink its current year expenses by $14 million.

In a message announcing the cuts to faculty and staff last week, president James Dean described how universities everywhere are in an “intense competition for students combined with rising costs for wages, goods, and services.”

“We know these challenges will persist in the coming years, and we must act to ensure that UNH is on firm financial footing,” he wrote. “Employee compensation and benefits are the university’s single largest expense line and, therefore, must be a part of a budget reset of this magnitude.”

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Museum director Kristina Durocher said she and her small staff had been bracing for budget cuts, but they never imagined the museum would be permanently shuttered and its entire staff laid off.

“It came out of nowhere; it’s heartbreaking,” said Durocher, whose employment will end on March 1. “It seems short sighted on the part of the university.”

The Museum of Art has had a dedicated space on the university campus since 1960.University of New Hampshire.

The museum’s closure, first reported by the Portsmouth Herald, comes months after Dean sent a campus-wide memo saying he’d instructed university leaders to review their budgets and reduce expenses by roughly 4 percent.

“Once these adjustments are approved,” he wrote, “our managers will have the flexibility to allocate resources within new budget parameters.”

For the university’s College of Liberal Arts, which encompasses the art museum, that responsibility fell to Dean Michele Dillon, whose overall cuts totaled around $1.5 million.

“My commitment was to focus on our core mission, which is academic: students, academic programs, and our research mission,” said Dillion, who called the cuts “a tall order.” “This is not in any way a reflection on the intrinsic value of the museum or the value it brings to a university education.”

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With approximately 2,500 objects in its collection, the museum has had its own dedicated space on campus since 1960, said Durocher. Collection highlights include works by Jasper Johns, Joseph Stella, and other notable artists. Durocher added that the museum also held annual exhibits to display the work of graduating students.

“It’s disappointing that students, faculty, and members of the community are going to be deprived of a wonderful cultural resource that has been here for over 60 years,” she said.

Dillon said there are no plans to sell the collection, adding that school leadership intends to exhibit some of the works as well as use them for teaching.

Marilyn Hoffman, who sits on the museum’s advisory board, said board members plan to meet with the university’s provost next month about reversing the decision to close the museum permanently.

“UNH is making a tragic mistake, and we are working to evolve the decision into a temporary closure, with a reopening in perhaps a year,” Hoffman said in an email to the Globe. “This would give the board a chance to buy time to raise bridge funds and private operating money.”

Durocher said the museum has been closed in preparation for a 14-week renovation that was expected to have commenced in December.

Now, instead of producing alternative programming during the temporary closure, museum staff is documenting the collection with an eye toward preservation.

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“We’re trying to proceed in a very orderly and professional way to make sure that our records are maintained and that all the information regarding the collection is conserved,” she said. “We want to make sure that [people] have access to it.”


Malcolm Gay can be reached at malcolm.gay@globe.com. Follow him @malcolmgay.