Mayor Tom Bradley, attempting to stave off the impending resignations of 19 of 27 board members of the Municipal Art Gallery Associates, has implemented a compromise plan that reorganizes the gallery’s management.
According to a spokesman for the mayor, the move is intended to “bring peace” to the Cultural Affairs Department, which operates the gallery in Barnsdall Park.
The 19 board members, citing a “growing loss of confidence” in the management of the department under general manager Fred Croton, submitted a joint letter of resignation to Bradley effective Sept. 30. The letter was dated Sept. 6.
As a support group, the Gallery associates raise about one-third of the Municipal Gallery’s budget.
Marc Levin, chairman of the associates, said the “board (members) will reconsider (their resignations) on an individual basis. . . . But I think they will continue on” as board members and retract their resignations.
The board members’ move came in reaction to Croton’s redefinition of responsibilities for Josine Ianco-Starrels, who for the last 10 years has been director of the Municipal Art gallery. (Ianco-Starrels also compiles the “Art News” column for The Times’ Sunday Calendar section.)
Last April, as part of his reorganizational efforts, Croton assigned Ianco-Starrels to work at City Hall and expanded her job duties to include other city-run galleries.
The following week, after the Gallery Associates protested that the reassignment would take Ianco-Starrels away from vital Municipal Art 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.
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 Levin.
“I walked into the gallery and realized that it was really being run by (recently hired curator) 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).”
Under the new arrangement worked out last Friday, as explained by Anton Calleia, chief administrative assistant to the mayor, and Nancy Carnes, a spokeswoman for Croton, Ianco-Starrels will operate out of the gallery all the time, but her control over the gallery will not be increased. Carnes said that the decision was made because of “so much flak.” Calleia said he hoped the move would “bring peace in the department” and “defuse the situation.”
“I am pleased that she was put back in the gallery,” said Levin, “but the effect remains to be seen. As it stands, administrators are making artistic decisions.”
Following disclosure of the impending resignations, Bullock’s department store withdrew its pledge of more than $100,000 earmarked for the gallery’s annual year-end “Magical Mystery Tour” in Barnsdall Park and a related fund-raising ball.
Bullock’s “would seriously reconsider” reinstating the funding if the board members reversed their decisions to resign, a Bullock’s spokesman said Monday. According to Jack W. McCarley, Bullock’s/Bullock’s Wilshire vice president of public affairs, “timing is the problem now. Last Friday was the deadline for Bullock’s. And that day came and went. But the door is not irrevocably shut.”
In a letter to Gallery Associates President Sondra Smalley dated Sept. 10, McCarley wrote: “It is now our feeling that with the majority of the board’s resignation, the support group has diminished to such an extent as to place the project’s chances of success in jeopardy.”
In their 2 1/2-page letter to Bradley, the discontented Gallery Associates discussed Ianco-Starrels’ situation at length and pleaded for the mayor’s intervention. “We implore you to intercede,” the letter ended.
General manager Croton 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.)
Associates chairman Levin said that only one board member, a physician, declined to sign the resignation letter. Others who didn’t sign were out of town and could not be reached, he said.
Among them is former State Sen. Alan Sieroty, now president of the seven-member Cultural Affairs Commission. Sieroty, who recently returned from Europe, could not be reached for comment.
Board member Gordon Davidson, artistic director of the Mark Taper Forum, was attending the Stratford Shakespeare festival in Ontario, Canada, and leaving Los Angeles when the associates situation developed. Through a Taper spokeswoman, he said that he was “very concerned” and intends to find out more about it upon his return.
City Councilman Joel Wachs, also an associates member who didn’t sign the resignation letter, emphasized that it does not go into effect until Sept. 30. He told The Times on Thursday that he was trying to get the disputing parties together.
“If these people resign, no one is going to replace them,” Wachs said. “This is the worst thing that could happen. It’s all or nothing. I want to do everything that I can to keep the associates, to keep Josine. She’s absolutely fantastic. I don’t want to lose them. I’m doing everything conceivable to save this thing.”
Wachs could not be reached for comment Monday.