Lewis & Clark College is laying off the curator of its campus art gallery and changing directions for its programming.

Curator Linda Tesner, who has been curating student, faculty and professional artists at Lewis & Clark for 20 years, will leave the Hoffman Gallery in May. Several planned exhibitions, such as those by Portland artists Arvie Smith and Malia Jensen, are now left stranded.

The college’s dean for arts and sciences, Bruce Suttmeier, says a faculty member will take over programming at the gallery — with a focus on student work.

“This really is a change from one director model to another, from a full-time staff member to a faculty-led position,” Suttmeier said. “What I hope that accomplishes is that the art department is more involved and that students are more involved.”

He said the college is not downgrading art on its priority list, pointing to the imminent arrival of a new faculty member, Brian House, who’ll lead a new digital art track as an assistant professor of art. Suttmeier declined to say whether the Hoffman’s budgets for arts staff and programming would continue at current levels.

“I think the Hoffman Gallery will be more responsive to students, and to the mission of the college. Part of that is the external facing art community,” he said. 

But a number of students and artists who’ve worked with the gallery mourned yet another loss of exhibition space in Portland. 

Mark Woolley, a Lewis & Clark alumni and sometimes Portland gallerist called the news “deeply disappointing.” Artist Dana Lynn Louis, who exhibited at the gallery in 2014, called Tesner “one of the most thoughtful, tenacious and brilliant curators in the Pacific Northwest.”

Artist Michelle Ross, who has never shown at the Hoffman, was nevertheless emphatic about the role Tesner has played in the city’s arts ecosystem.

“She’s a tireless, amazing, visionary curator — and she’s not only those things but generous,” Ross said.

Ross had a project several years ago that needed floor space and wall space. Tesner stepped in to help.

“I didn’t have a studio big enough,” she said. “[Tesner] said, ‘We’re in between shows; come use the space for a few days.’”

Ross said the opportunity to bring work to a gallery space allowed her to fine-tune what became a successful exhibition.  

Lewis & Clark is one of several colleges dialing back financial commitments to art in the region. Over the past three years, four university-affiliated art programs have been closed by their parent institutions.

Most recently, Marylhurst University’s lauded Art Gym was left homeless by the school’s dissolution. A plan to move it to Oregon College of Art and Craft fell through.

The city’s two major art schools, Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft, are engaged in merger talks. While no reduction of space is planned, even if the merger goes forward, artists and art lovers are nervous about what the future may bring. The full list of closures or shrinkage dates back two years:

    •    2016 Museum of Contemporary Craft closed by PNCA
    •    2017 White Box Gallery closed by U of O
    •    2017 PSU Dance program ended at Portland State University
    •    2018 Art Gym closed as part of Marylhurst University’s dissolution
    •    2018 Art Institute of Portland closes
    •    2018 PNCA and OCAC engage in talks to merge.

The city of Portland committed last February to a plan to preserve creative space. While the plan affirmed the city would work with institutions of high education to increase dedicated gallery space, no interventions have been staged.

The Hoffman’s current exhibition, by Maria T. D. Inocencio and Mark R. Smith, has a gallery talk scheduled this Sunday.

A show by Sandow Birk, an artist whose work focuses on war and American culture, opens Jan. 24. The College’s senior exhibition goes on view in May.