New director's focus a 'dynamic & inclusive course' for UA's troubled Center for Creative Photography
World-class University of Arizona institution has fresh leader in Todd Tubutis
Todd Tubutis, the newly announced director of University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography, will tackle running a world-renowned institution beset by staff turnover and allegations of racism and retaliation.
The UA center houses more than 100,000 treasured original prints, negatives and manuscripts from some of history's most famous photographers, including co-founder Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, Edward Weston, David Hume Kennerly, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, and more.
An experienced university arts administrator, Tubutis was named as the new director of the UA center Monday, following a national search. The UA Museum of Art, across the street, also has a new director, with Olivia Miller's appointment announced Friday.
Since 2019, Tubutis has been director of the Art Museum of West Virginia University. From 2015 to 2019, he was associate director at the University of Nebraska's Sheldon Museum of Art. Earlier, he was executive director of Blue Sky Gallery, the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts in Portland, UA officials said.
Tubutis replaces Staci Santa, managing director of Arizona Arts Live, who served as interim director since last May. Santa took the position after Anne Breckenridge Barrett, director of the CCP since 2018, left for a post at the University of Arizona Foundation amid swirling accusations of racism within the center's programming.
A number of staffers resigned from the center in 2020-2021, claiming that a hostile working environment took place during Barrett's tenure.
Tubutis will begin working at the UA in mid-July.
"I am thrilled to be joining the talented staff of the Center for Creative Photography as its next director," said Tubutis in a UA news release. "It is a true honor to be asked to lead such an exceptional institution – to steward its history and chart a dynamic and inclusive course for its future – especially as CCP prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2025."
"CCP is singular in its commitment to the medium and unique in its importance as a museum, archive, and interdisciplinary hub" at the university," he said. "I look forward to collaborating across campus and with our Arizona Arts partners to continue integrating the center into the student experience. And I can't wait to get to know Tucson and the many dedicated supporters of CCP who champion its ongoing success."
Andy Schulz, UA vice president for the arts, said he is "delighted" to welcome Tubutis to the campus.
"Todd comes to us with a wealth of experience working at, and leading, cultural institutions located within flagship public research universities. I look forward to working closely with Todd and the entire CCP staff during this exciting next phase in the center's history," he said.
Tubutis has a passion for photography.
At Blue Sky Gallery, he grew organizational capacity, diversified funding streams, and furthered its reputation as a champion of emerging photographic artists. Tubutis independently curated an exhibition for the Wright Museum of Art, "Conflict and Consequence: Photographing War and Its Aftermath" (cited as "The Best Photography Exhibition of 2015" by critic and curator Pete Brook). And at WVU, he strategically expanded the Art Museum's collecting plan to include photography, secured the organization's first dedicated photography acquisition fund, and organized photo-specific public programs, exhibitions, and donor cultivation events.
The center was co-founded in 1975 by then University President John Schaefer and Ansel Adams and its initial collection contained the archives of five photographers—Adams, Wynn Bullock, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, and Frederick Sommer. The collection has grown to include 270 archival collections, including well-known 20th-century North American photographers Lola Álvarez Bravo, W. Eugene Smith, Edward Weston, David Hume Kennerly, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Richard Avedon, and Garry Winogrand.
There are over eight million objects in the CCP collection including negatives, work prints, contact sheets, albums, scrapbooks, correspondence, writings, and memorabilia. In addition, the center also actively acquires individual photographs by modern and contemporary photographers. There are currently more than 100,000 works by over 2,200 photographers.
Barrett — who had been director of collections at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago — took over the UA center in 2018, following the abrupt retirement of Katharine Martinez in late 2016. That move came following a series of clashes over exhibition plans with curator Josh Chuang, who was pushed out just days before Martinez left.
Chuang had been in his position for just two years, and the post of curator had been vacant for five years before his hiring. Martinez had been recruited as director in 2010 — the fifth director of the center hired in seven years.
Martinez raised the hackles of many center supporters by dismissing an advisory board of fundraisers and photo experts. The leadership of the center chafed for years under the purview of the university library system, and there was dissension on whether to focus on exhibiting photographs or on scholarship and preservation.
During Barrett's time at the helm, a number of staffers resigned and said "complaints of racism, exploitation, and retaliation were ignored," a report by ArtNet News said. Nearly 20 percent of employees left the center in 2020-21, according to the report.
From that 2021 news story:
Barrett did not respond to the allegations, and a university spokeswoman described the resignations as “a small amount of turnover” that is common.
“We take these allegations very seriously,” the spokeswoman added, “and the university has a number of reporting pathways committed to uncovering and resolving concerns employees have about their employment.”
But with staff leaving virtually every department in the past year—and many of the remaining employees requesting the university intervene—Breckenridge faces significant obstacles in stabilizing the organization.
CCP staffers believed "Barrett often avoided taking action on or responsibility for complaints about diversity and equity," the report said.
From ArtNet in July 2021 :
In an email announcing his resignation in May, Brian Ganter, a longtime program manager and the third junior staff remember to resign in as many weeks, wrote: “My concerns stem from years of experiencing harmful policies and leadership practices that have resulted in an unsafe and inequitable work environment.”
Interviews with six current and former employees repeated the allegations listed in Ganter’s letter. Employees said that Barrett made inappropriate comments about the sexuality and race of staff members during the nonprofit’s holiday party. They also recalled a July 2019 meeting when the director invited a human resources official to discuss diversity at the center who instead lectured them on the ethics of accepting Sackler money. Disturbed by the meeting, several employees created a diversity committee of their own to help improve the center’s demographics, which are predominantly white.
“Efforts to diversify the collection were very surface level and not thoughtful,” said Deidre Thompson, a Black woman who worked as the center’s librarian until she resigned in 2019. “There were plans to add artists of color to the collection, but no plans to add any literature about them to the library.”
Other employees said that the center had manipulated the timing of its acquisitions to make it appear as though it was diversifying its collection when many of the photographs accepted from white photographers were simply moved to the next year. (Some affiliated with CCP later disputed this characterization.)
A university spokeswoman did not respond directly to allegations of racism at the center, but said that there are a number of pathways for uncovering and resolving employee concerns. After he submitted his resignation in May, Ganter said that the university informed him that it had finally started investigating allegations against Barrett.
But some current and former employees remain concerned that the university is not doing enough to ensure the wellbeing of center staff, and that problems will persist without proper intervention from school officials.
“It was the most toxic workplace that I have experienced,” said Lenox Wiese, an archivist who recently left the center. “A curator told staff that she didn’t think photography was for people who needed to ride the bus. That’s when I realized that I couldn’t work with people whose core beliefs about who can access art are so fundamentally different from mine.”
Will the stated commitment to charting a "dynamic and inclusive course" by Tubutis and what UA officials describe as his "record of innovative exhibition development and curatorial initiatives" soothe the strife within the photography center? Stay tuned for developments.