In ARCHITECT's recent story about the planned closing of the School of Architecture at Taliesin, both the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and school representatives declined to speak to the magazine, citing a mutual agreement not to comment on the matter publicly. But after the story was published, Jeff Goodman, vice president of communication & partnerships at the foundation, emailed ARCHITECT an internal memo intended to "clarify the situation."
Dan Schweiker, the chair of the school board, sent the memo to his fellow board members on Jan. 23. As Goodman wrote to us: "In recent media interviews, Schweiker has been cited about the short term financial viability of the School. This includes your article, in which he 'said it had enough money and donors that its immediate future was not in doubt.'
"However, in the attached memo, Schweiker states his factual understanding of the School’s position, along with his support of the Foundation’s intentions and the agreed plan."
In the memo, Schweiker writes that "Short of having a benefactor that could pump millions of dollars into the School immediately I do notsee a sustainable future for the School as currently Structured."
Here is the memo in full:
Schweiker responded with a statement of his own that he sent to ARCHITECT:
As Stuart Graff told the Arizona Post Secondary Education Board yesterday [Feb. 27] , I, individually, have been concerned with the long term viability and sustainability of the School “ in its current form” and operating under its “current model”. This was my individual feeling and not a Governing Board decision. I have always been just one of many equal voices on the Governing Board. As a businessperson I felt that continuing to operate the same way we had for 88 years would not propel the School into the future, and that we would run out of money in several years. That is why I, with [fellow board member] Jacki Lynn, asked them for a two year extension of the current Memorandum of Understanding. We need time to evaluate what we should keep and what we should reinvent. As Board records show I have advocated for an out of the box evaluation of the way the School currently exists that, in my view, hampers us from fulfilling Mr. Wright’s legacy and keeping his lessons alive for future generations.
I wanted to look at off campus housing to, allow us to get to our 60 student level quicker than building on site, lowering our expenses by analyzing whether the School should be offering food service to our students, facility and employees and looking at outsourcing some of the services that the Foundation current supplies and any other ideas that arose to secure the School’s future. Indeed, I even explored adding a Cranbrook model for some unaccredited courses that would increase our attendance and moving off campus for most of our teaching to free up the campus more so the Foundation could better monetize it for their needs. At no time do I remember suggesting giving up being affiliated with Taliesin and Taliesin West, nor did I suggest that we should abandon being an accredited graduate program in architecture. I was merely looking for ways to enhance revenue and cut expenses in as clear and structural way as I thought possible. I understood the Foundation's financial needs and was looking for ways to make it a win-win situation for both groups. The Foundation abruptly declined our offer and always seemed inclined to try and find reasons to end the School instead of creative ways to preserve it.
In my life I have generally been well served by trusting people until I have reason not to trust them. With Stuart I now have that reason.
In another development since the story was published, Simon De Aguero, Assoc. AIA, quoted in the piece, has started a petition to save the school. The petition has amassed more than 7,000 signatures in five days.
The school board has now reversed its decision to close.