Love and legacy of contemporary art lives on

1:07:24 PM CDT - Thursday, February 26, 2004

By Shannon Littlejohn

When curator Elizabeth Dunbar left the Ulrich Museum of Art on Feb. 20, she left behind a fine legacy of focusing on contemporary art by some of most exciting, emerging young artists in the country, says David Butler, director of the Ulrich.

"She has helped us take more risks," says Butler. "She's been very daring in her choices of acquisitions and exhibitions, and has ferreted art out in all kinds of places."

Because of Dunbar, Butler is certain that people have a much clearer idea of what the Ulrich is now and what it can be -- both locally, in terms of serving WSU's student body and the larger community, and nationally.

"She certainly has raised the bar in terms of the quality and importance of what we do," he says. "And that becomes a permanent thing. Once that happens, it's a legacy, really."

Dunbar is taking her passion for contemporary art to Kansas City to begin her new job as curator of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

"It's a bigger audience, a bigger pond, a lot more going on," says Dunbar of her next challenge. She notes that Kansas City has a much more mature art scene, but has confidence that Wichita will get there, too.

"It's been a wonderful three years at the Ulrich and in Wichita," she says. "I'm very grateful for the opportunity I was given. I feel like we've made a lot of progress both on campus and in the community."

"We're really sorry to lose her and wish her the best," says Butler. Besides leaving a legacy, he adds, Dunbar also leaves very big shoes to fill.

The search for a new curator is under way, however. Butler says that a committee has been formed to mount a national search for Dunbar's replacement.

Dunbar gently chuckles at the suggestion of her "legacy." But she quickly turns serious.

"In terms of legacy," she admits, "the New Art Event is certainly something I'm very proud of. People look forward to that every year." (The festive New Art Event, on March 6 this year, showcases the Ulrich's new acquisitions and invites visitors to vote on their favorite piece. See related story this issue.)

"There have also been some significant acquisitions that I'm proud of," says Dunbar. Those include the Andy Goldworthy commission and the recent acquisition of Dario Robleto's "Vatican Radio," currently on display at the Ulrich in a larger Robleto exhibit that will soon be headed for the Whitney Biennial.

Meanwhile, her new job beckons, and Dunbar is hopeful that she can make an impact on Kansas City's art community. But her ties to Wichita, and the Ulrich, are strong. She'll even be back, she says, to attend this year's New Art Event.

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