John Weber starts as executive director of JSMA

October 7, 2019

Dear Colleagues,

There is much happening on and around campus this week, with most units starting classes and a host of other “back to school” activities.

Included in this swirl of activity is the arrival of the new executive director for the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, John Weber. We announced John’s appointment in July, but I wanted to send a quick note to let you know that he began this week. You can read more about John in that announcement.

Below my signature line in this email are two messages—one from John and one from Jill—that have been shared with the JSMA membership community. Importantly, John wishes to extend to you all an invitation to visit the JSMA. I was there for a tour recently and was, as usual, impressed by the current exhibits and the pieces the JSMA has on loan through the Masterworks on Loan program. It is definitely worth taking the time to visit. (And, admission is free to UO faculty, staff and students.)

I would also like to take this opportunity to extend a very big thank you to Jill Hartz, who has served as executive director with distinction, and to whom we wish the best of luck as she embarks on her next chapter. The museum is better as a result of her years of dedication and service.

Please join me in welcoming John to the University of Oregon.


Patrick Phillips
Provost and Senior Vice President

** **

A message from the new director.


Over the past decade and more, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art has grown and thrived under Jill Hartz’s leadership, thanks to the hard work of a strong staff, the JSMA communities on and off campus, the Leadership Council, and the crucial support of the University of Oregon itself. In that time, the JSMA emerged as a leading academic museum. It collaborates closely with faculty to engage students in museum-based learning, enriching the educations and lives of thousands of students every year. At the same time, the JSMA has also dramatically expanded its service to communities beyond the university, engaging new and diverse audiences in Eugene and throughout the region. It holds world-class collections and mounts a wide range of inspiring exhibitions. Truly, Jill leaves inspiring shoes to fill, and I’m both honored and grateful to be offered that challenge. It’s an exciting time to be coming here. 

Campus-based art museums like the JSMA—teaching museums as we often call them—have evolved in important ways over the past two decades. I’ve participated in that evolution at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, the first academic museum to explicitly name itself a “teaching museum,” and at the Institute of the Arts and Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. By harnessing the tremendous intellectual and structural resources of their parent institutions, academic teaching museums can undertake projects simply beyond the practical capabilities and program visions of private and civic art museums, even the adventurous ones.

That’s why I’m committed to campus museum work and thrilled to be coming to the JSMA and the University of Oregon. Although research universities are complex and often unwieldy, the possibilities their faculty, laboratories, classrooms, studios, and curricula offer an imaginative, ambitious museum staff are simply unrivaled. You also have an energizing freedom to experiment and endless opportunities to collaborate with brilliant colleagues to find new ways to reach students, schools, and off-campus audiences. These opportunities feed my imagination and energy. 

To me, one of the points of that freedom is to use it to explore art’s inherently interdisciplinary nature, linking art history with other histories and bodies of knowledge. This means creating exhibitions and programs that use art as a lens through which to view the world beyond and situating art within the specific cultural contexts that give birth to it. It means accepting that visual art is not just about beauty and craft, but also about cultural and personal identity, specific world views, human emotion, power and society, science, nature, economics, religion and spirituality, and so much more. Art’s value is precisely this complexity and how deeply it reflects human needs and cultural conditions. I’m also always cognizant that we live today in an increasingly visual culture infused with the easy exchange of photos and video on the internet. In this world, campus museums can play a powerful role in developing critical observation skills and visual literacy among our students.

To end on a personal note, I’m from Oregon, as Jill says in her piece, and that goes back quite a ways. In fact, my great grandfather on my father’s side owned a harness shop in nineteenth century Brownsville, and like my mother, I grew up in Corvallis. I began my museum career at the Portland Art Museum and several smaller non-profit galleries there. After Portland came stints in San Francisco, upstate New York, and Santa Cruz. Returning to Oregon is a homecoming for me—and one I look forward to immensely. I’ll see you soon at the museum! 

John Weber

A message from the outgoing director.

Thank you!

I couldn’t have imagined when I started as executive director in August 2008 that this would become the most fulfilling work experience of my career and that together we could envision a mission, program, and future for this museum that would be so exciting and relevant to our communities on and off campus. That’s because of you–your love for this museum and your trust in and support of me, our staff, students, and volunteers.

We’ve now completed a successful search for my replacement, and I am thrilled that John Weber will become our new executive director on September 30. He brings substantial experience with museums, both public and academic, and has an impressive network of colleagues, artists, collectors, and supporters who will benefit the museum for years to come.

Since 2013, John has served as the founding director of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences at University of California Santa Cruz, where he connected faculty, students, and the community around art, bringing internationally known visiting artists and scholars to campus. From 2004 to 2012, he was the Dayton Director of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery and a professor of liberal studies at Skidmore College. From 1993 to 2004, he served as the Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Programs at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

John also has significant ties to Oregon. He was born and raised in Corvallis and began his museum and gallery career as curator of contemporary art at the Portland Art Museum (1987-93); curator of the Vollum Gallery at Reed College (1985-88); and executive director for the Northwest Artists Workshop (1985-86).

My own position will shift once John starts to that of advisor to the director and curator of contemporary art, working half-time in October and then quarter-time until the end of the year. Over the past three years, since my husband, Richard Herskowitz, assumed the directorship of the Ashland Independent Film Festival, we have made the temporary separation work, but I look forward to moving to Ashland and pursuing curatorial, writing, and other interests. And, I’ll be back in January, when my exhibition of Claire Burbridge’s work opens in the Artist Project Space.

I know I will see many of you often during the months ahead and look forward to both reminiscing (a little) and introducing you to John. As expected, we have a range of stimulating exhibitions and education programs ahead. We are especially happy to partner with the Eugene Public Library on the Ralph Steadman exhibition and are grateful to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art for including us in a Western art museum consortium that brings major works to the museum this fall in support of our Common Seeing.

I also want to recognize the generosity of Betty Soreng and others who wish to remain anonymous who matched her gift for making possible the renovation of our Soreng Gallery. Once we’re further along with the project, we’ll be able to post a date for the reopening, which we expect to happen toward the end of the year.

Jill Hartz