Taking Back the Mendocino Arts Center
by Margaret Paul, November 11, 2009
The good news: Attorney Brandt Stickel has been removed as President of the Board of Directors of the Mendocino Art Center (subsequently resigning) and a new slate of officers have been elected. The new officers are: Tom Becker, President and Treasurer, Dr. Richard Miller, 1st Vice-President, Dr. Don Paglia, 2nd Vice-President, and Leona Walden, Secretary. This new board leadership has promised transparency, with board meetings open to the public, except when matters involving legal or personnel issues are discussed. They welcome and encourage community input.
The bad news: Many on the newly reorganized board still support the controversial Executive Director, Karen Ely. Since she assumed her responsibilities in August, the Art Center has undergone a systematic dismantling of programs and events, many of which are proven revenue generators. Coupled with this loss of revenue is the 300% increase in administrative salaries. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this is a train wreck in the making.
The real twist here is the fact that the proceeds of the sale of the Stevenson property combined with a generous donation from a patron, have put the Art Center in a position of relative strength in a declining economy. That is, until the board hired a new executive director with no knowledge or appreciation for the tapestry of programs and traditions that make the Art Center such a valued community resource — locals even refer to it as “holy ground.” Ely has made it clear that she will not be influenced by the community in her decision-making process. She has been heard to say that community input is not relevant to her vision. For the same reason, she refuses to read the local paper. With that closed and rather arrogant attitude, it’s no wonder the community isn’t backing her. Many people have stopped coming to the Art Center altogether. They describe the atmosphere as cold, uninviting, like a mausoleum. The September and October turnout at Second Saturday event was down significantly from a year ago. Registration for the Center’s classes is at a standstill.
The remedy: The board must encourage Karen Ely to resign or fire her, if necessary. This needs to happen now. That is the only way the public trust can be regained.
For approximately 12 years prior to July, 2003, the Mendocino Art Center was a membership organization. Each member had the right to vote for five board members. The By-Law change in 2003 did away with this, much to the dismay of many long-time Art Center supporters. The new Board of Directors needs to address this important issue as well as many others immediately.
The next meeting of the Mendocino Art Center Board of Directors is scheduled for Thursday, November 19, at 2pm. Please come to the meeting and share your concerns with the board. If we remain involved in the process, we will restore our beloved Art Center and ensure its survival for generations to come. ¥¥