The search for a new leader of Frank Lloyd Wright's School of Architecture concluded today, as the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation named Aaron Betsky the new dean in charge of Taliesin. Betsky previously served as director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, but stepped down from that position in January 2014. He was previously the director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, and he directed the 11th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2008. He has authored numerous books on art and architecture and continues to blog for Architect. Split between campuses in Spring Green, Wisconsin and Scottsdale, Arizona, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture is in the middle of a fundraising campaign that could decide the future of the school's accreditation. Facing new rules from the Higher Learning Commission, officials from the institution said they must raise at least $2 million before the end of 2015, or the school will lose its standing once those new rules take effect in 2017. Betsky will "set the intellectual tone or the School," according to a press release, but he will also have to help tackle the school's financial challenges. "Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture broke the box and opened vistas toward a democratic landscape; he made organic architecture and built with, rather than on, the land before anybody talked about sustainable architecture," Betsky said in a statement. "I look forward to continuing the tradition of experimental architecture he did so much to define." The future of that tradition, however, remains uncertain. In December Sean Malone, president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, said the school would remain committed to design education even if they are no longer able to award accredited degrees after 2017. With Betsky at the helm that mission appears intact; the Foundation said they will continue to award degrees at their Taliesin East and Taliesin West campuses either way, perhaps in partnership with accredited institutions. "We wanted a bold thinker and a talented leader," Malone said in a statement, "and we found both in Aaron." Betsky, who was born in Montana but grew up in the Netherlands, succeeds Victor Sidy, who returns to his private architectural practice. Betsky assumes the role of dean immediately.
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In August, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture found its accreditation in jeopardy, following a rules change by their regional accrediting board, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Now the institution needs to raise $2 million before the end of 2015, or it will lose its standing once the new rules take effect in 2017. The challenge lies in establishing the school as an entity fully independent of its parent company, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. HLC, apparently targeting for-profit universities, said it would no longer offer credit to schools that are part of institutions whose “missions extend beyond academics.” As part of a foundation that also advocates for preservation and engages in non-academic pursuits, the Frank Lloyd Wright school found itself in violation of these new rules. Now the plan is to spin off the school, which earned accreditation in 1992, into a financially independent entity. To do that, the school's administrators say they need to scrounge at least $1 million in cash and pledges by March 27, and then another $1 million by the end of 2015. If they meet that goal, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has agreed to make a one-time gift of $7 million. "This campaign is the only opportunity to save the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture as we know it," said Maura Grogan, chair of the school’s board of governors, in a press release. If they don't reach their fundraising goal, President Sean Malone told AN the school "would remain deeply dedicated to shaping architectural education," but would lose its ability to offer accredited degrees after 2017. They could still team up with accredited institutions to offer such credentials, but their standalone certifications would carry considerably less weight in the professional world. Malone said the rules change had the unintended effect of risking the school's standing due to its unique status as a financially dependent subsidiary of a larger foundation. "It was an imperfect storm," Malone said. “Right now we're very hopeful and focused on bringing in people who believe in this cause." The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture offers a professional M.Arch degree program with a focus on hands-on studio experience at its two campuses: Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin.