Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University Strike an Extraordinary Deal

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By User:Alexf.Alexf at en.wikipedia [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], from Wikimedia Commons

December 21, 2015; Boston Globe

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to transfer the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) to the control of Tufts University as of June 30th, 2016. The agreement will transfer 700 students and roughly 145 faculty members to Tufts, which will run the school, but the buildings, which are adjacent to the museum, will continue to be owned by the MFA, which established the school 140 years ago. The newly organized entity will be known as SMFA@Tufts.

Tufts and the SMFA have a relationship that goes back seven decades, with the university offering a dual degree with SMFA, but as an independent entity, the school has struggled with enrollment and its finances lately, due in part to its unaccredited status. The move will provide not only the benefits of accreditation but also access to a broader liberal arts education.

“I think it will be more attractive to fine arts students,” said Tufts president Anthony P. Monaco. “The university can offer a lot more to them than the museum school standing on its own.”

The new director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Matthew Teitelbaum, comments, “Artists needed and wanted to be part of a larger conversation and to have access to courses and skills that put their own art in a larger context.”

“We were confronting, as many standalone art schools are confronting, a challenge in enrollment,” Teitelbaum said. “We didn’t feel that it was fatal. The patient wasn’t in critical condition. But we did feel that it was a smart thing to find a partner that could build back the enrollment numbers more quickly than we could.”

And in return, Tufts gets a fully developed art program that is affiliated with a major museum, setting it apart from most others.

“It’s quite distinctive,” said Monaco. “There are going to be programmatic opportunities not only with the arts, but also with science and engineering.”

Teitelbaum has only been at the helm of the museum since April but seems to be moving quickly to change things. NPQ recently covered the protests of the museum guards there against what they call the “militarization” of their role. The pace of change under a new leader can often lead to organizational strife, as we saw at the JFK Library Foundation across town, but let’s watch what happens here.—Ruth McCambridge