Sorting through the records at the Oregon Arts Commission, Blake Shell to the Art Gym

Public records on the firing of Christine D'Arcy leave basic questions unanswered, Blake Shell succeeds Terri Hopkins at The Art Gym

When you do a public records sift, you can find out some interesting stuff, which is what The Oregonian’s David Stabler did with the firing of Christine D’Arcy as executive director of the Oregon Cultural Trust and the Oregon Arts Commission, where she’d been for 19 years. His story is well worth a read, especially if you’re interested in the emails leading up to the firing and D’Arcy’s 2010 performance report.

Those documents hint at the case against D’Arcy (dissatisfaction with her leadership in the arts community and management style), without proving any of them—they are simply assertions. And the story makes it clear that there’s another way to interpret her performance, though those are simply counter-assertions.

So, if you are trying to evaluate whether it was time to replace D’Arcy or not, those emails and counter-quotes don’t help that much. Which isn’t that surprising. It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a journalist to figure out the performance level of a manager in a bureaucracy, especially one without clear metrics for success. The reason is simple: some people will like the manager, some people won’t, and political and/or personal considerations are often involved in those judgments, anyway. Often, there are legal ramifications to talking about personnel matters, so bosses and employees don’t or can’t talk about them. Sometimes it’s just a matter of civility: So far, none of the principals in this matter has attacked another in public.

Did D’Arcy do anything “bad”? No. Was her firing illegal somehow? No. Do people disagree with the decision? Of course. Would it be worthwhile to go over the past 19 years of her service at the arts commission to attempt to figure out what she did “right” or “wrong,” the opportunities to move the arts forward in the state that she seized or missed? I would love it if someone did! The hours involved and impasses the analyst would encounter are both gigantic.

Going forward, though, I think it’s a reasonable expectation for the Trust and Arts Commission boards, in consultation with the governor’s office, to talk openly about what the role and expectations for the executive director are, and for that matter, what those expectations are for the boards themselves. And I’d love to see a clear statement from Governor Kitzhaber, who just announced that he’s running for a fourth term as governor, about what he thinks the role of the ARTS are in the state and what he thinks a reasonable arts funding level should be. Stay tuned and we may even have some more suggestions later this week.

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Blake Shell will replace Terri Hopkins as the new leader of The Art Gym

Blake Shell will replace Terri Hopkins as the new leader of The Art Gym

One of the toughest acts to follow in the arts community is Terri Hopkins, who steps down as director and curator of The Art Gym at Marylhurst University in January. Hopkins founded The Art Gym, and she’s made it a vital player in the arts world here. (I wrote about her resignation and a larger “challenge” endowment grant for the position going forward back in August.)

Marylhurst has announced that Blake Shell will replace Hopkins at The Art Gym, and add the new Belluschi Pavilion to the portfolio. She begins next week, December 16, though Hopkins will be around to help with the transition through mid-January, according to the press release.

Shell was the director of the Archer Gallery at Clark College from 2009 to 2012, and now works as project manager for the Stroemple Art Collection in Portland. She’s also been a curatorial assistant for the Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College.

Hopkins was part of the effort to find her own successor, and I asked her about Shell. “Blake Shell is an energetic, creative and skilled curator,” she said. “Several years ago, the shows she organized for the Archer Gallery at Clark College in Vancouver drew my attention and led to my belief that when the time came, there were amazing young curators ready to take The Art Gym into the future. I am very pleased to pass the baton to Blake and am excited to see her take on the contemporary art of our region.”

Which sounds like a very good endorsement indeed.

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