Citing “our growing loss of confidence” in the management of the Cultural Affairs Department under general manager Fred Croton, 19 of 27 members of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery Associates have submitted a joint letter of resignation to Mayor Tom Bradley.
The resignations, effective Sept. 30, prompted Bullock’s department store to withdraw “significant” support from the gallery’s annual year-end Magical Mystery Tour in Barnsdall Park as well as the underwriting of a fund-raising ball Dec. 7 for that event.
“It is now our feeling that with the majority of the board’s resignation, the support group has diminished to such as extent as to place the project’s chances of success in jeopardy,” said Jack W. McCarley, Bullock’s/Bullock’s Wilshire vice president of public affairs, in a letter to Gallery Associates President Sondra Smalley. The letter was dated Sept. 10, four days after the joint resignation letter to the mayor.
McCarley told The Times that Bullock’s would have contributed in excess of $100,000.
As a support group, the Gallery Associates raises about a third of the Municipal Gallery’s budget, through donations and grants from individuals, corporations and state and federal sources, such as the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Cultural Affairs Department funding of the gallery for this fiscal year amounts to $220,000.
At issue is Croton’s redefinition of responsibilities for Josine Ianco-Starrels, who for the last 10 years has been acting as director of the gallery. The Associates stated to Bradley that the gallery is “by far the most important visual arts facility the city has.” Ianco-Starrels’ formal civil service title is art coordinator.
Last April as part of his reorganizational efforts, Croton assigned her to work at City Hall in the office adjacent to his and put her in charge of all the city’s visual arts programming. At the time, Ianco-Starrels was incapacitated with a broken leg.
The following week, after the Gallery Associates protested that the reassignment would take Ianco-Starrels away from vital gallery activities, a compromise was reached. Ianco-Starrels was allowed to report to the gallery on Mondays and Tuesdays and worked Wednesdays and Thursdays at City Hall. Her fifth work day is accounted for by gallery activities on evenings and Saturdays. Ianco-Starrels also compiles the “Art News” column for The Times’ Sunday Calendar section.
When Ianco-Starrels was able to return to work in mid-July, both she and the Associates found they were unhappy with the situation. “We gave it a six-month trial period, but after six weeks we found it didn’t work,” said Marc Levin, chairman of the Gallery Associates.
“I walked into the gallery and realized that it was really being run by (recently hired coordinator) Maria de Alcuaz,” Ianco-Starrels said, “and when I went to City Hall, I realized there was precious little to do other than program the Bridge Gallery, which is a passageway between the old and the new City Halls, and West Los Angeles (the foyer in the city hall satellite).
“I was to work out a citywide program of exhibitions,” she continued, “but that is sort of a bizarre thing to ask, because you can’t work out a program of exhibitions in spaces that are not insurable. Therefore you can’t pick any good art because no good artist is going to give you their work (under those conditions).”
Referring to the gallery, Ianco-Starrels added: “What can I tell you, except that I am sick and heartsick, because you cultivate a garden for 10 years, and suddenly you’re out.”
Ianco-Starrels now says there is a “strong possibility” she will resign.
Through press spokesman Nancy Carnes, Croton issued a “no comment.”
In their 2 1/2-page letter to Bradley, the Gallery Associates discussed Ianco-Starrels’ situation at length and pleaded for the mayor’s intervention. “We implore you to intercede,” the letter ended.
The Cultural Affairs general manager is currently under investigation by the city’s Personnel Department. The City Council ordered a probe into Croton’s “personnel policies and practices” following the termination last March of Rod Sakai. Sakai, who had worked for the city for eight years, was terminated when his 240-day emergency appointment was about to run out. He occupied the office space that Ianco-Starrels inherited.