Bruce Ferguson to Leave Future Arts Research @ ASU for... Cairo

We just heard that F.A.R (Future Arts Research @ ASU) director Bruce Ferguson is swapping out one big stretch of desert for another one halfway around the world.

In the middle of Cairo, Egypt, to be exact.

Ferguson, who was hired by ASU President Michael Crow several years ago to head up the university's fledgling arts research institute, is waving good-bye to Phoenix for now to take a job as Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at the American University in Cairo (AUC). According to Ferguson, AUC, which bills itself as "[a]n American liberal arts university in the heart of the Middle East," has been around since 1919 and is fully accredited in both Egypt and the United States.

Not unlike English-speaking universities in Beirut, Lebanon and Athens, Greece, AUC was started by Christian missionaries.

"The initial idea was to convert Arabs to Christianity, but that wasn't overly successful," says Ferguson. "It's now the major English-language university in the Middle East, which also has an institute for Arabic speakers to learn English and an Arabic-language institute for English speakers to learn and teach Arabic."

Ferguson plans to bounce back and forth between offices at the two AUC campuses, one in downtown Cairo and a new one in New Cairo, which, he explains, is "more outside the city and up higher, "where the air is better."

The soon-to-be-former F.A.R. director has no reticence about moving half-way across the planet to work, especially given what he terms "the very interesting area of creativity in the arts in the Middle East right now -- I can watch the emergence and maybe contribute to it."

He sees Cairo as a culmination of New York City, where he was Dean of Fine Arts at Columbia University, and Phoenix, in that it's a big, very cosmopolitan metropolis with 25 million people and a very long history. He points out that Cairo, ironically enough, is the place where the myth of the phoenix or benu began way back in ancient times, when the city was known as Heliopolis.

So, inquiring minds want to know: What's the final fate of F.A.R.? Ferguson reports that it will be absorbed by ASU Art Museum under the new directorship of Gordon Knox, who will report to Kwang Wu Kim, dean of ASU's Herberger College for Design and the Arts.

Knox, who has been labeled " a core collaborator for the Stanford Humanities Lab (SHL) at Stanford University," has no actual museum-director experience; though he was hired back in 2009, he only took over the museum's reins part-time on January 11, 2010 (he's supposed to go full-time on July 1). That partly explains why Gordon Knox sightings have been about as frequent and unexpected as those of the Loch Ness monster. Or a burning phoenix.

And, if you're wondering, F.A.R. will still be funded by a local philanthropist (whose identity Ferguson refused to divulge, though he says it's not Diane Halle and not Bentley Calverley, owner of Bentley Gallery in Scottsdale and Bentley Projects in downtown Phoenix), with staff salaries paid by the university.

Ferguson makes it clear that he will still have a consulting role to ASU, Knox and Kwang Wu Kim with regard to F.A.R.'s larger "desert initiative" started last year. "We're now looking at a region-wide possibility of a biennial involving other desert cities like El Paso, Albuquerque and Palm Springs," he says, though he believes F.A.R. will also continue its annual desert symposium and research aspects. "We're concentrating on deserts, both here and elsewhere. We're having real discussions with people in four other states about a widespread biennale for the last 6 months, though it hasn't manifested itself fully."

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