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Thursday 01.19.17

« New Year opportunities | Main | Post Snowpocalypse Weekend Picks »

More Disjecta'd

Well, the more you know about Disjecta and its founder (two different entities btw) the less surprised one is that things had to go this way.

Long ago PORT published this article... in many ways its founder never changed and was ousted as we reported here and here. Then yesterday he went on another of his infamous email campaigns prompting the board to respond by revealing his self-serving actions and retaliations (read below). There is a pattern here and many have put a lot of effort into apologizing for his tactics over the years. For example, you can see perhaps his staunchest supporter Meagan Atiyah in the comments of this PORT post. Their close coordination has always made me uncomfortable... when she left the board of directors a few years ago his support started to erode. There is simply a difference between being colorful and difficult... and someone who can't operate by taking the high road. It was a very Trump-ish move to build a wall (read the board letter below).

It is true some artists still stand by him (many do not, especially after the disastrous biennial) but he relied on cultivating those kind of buddy buddy relationships. Going for drinks, hanging out in a Blazer game skybox, being one of the guys etc. but there is a pattern there and it really doesnt serve an organization which takes up a lot of nonprofit art ecosystem resources. A non profit director has to walk a line as a steward. In Disjecta's founders case that line was clearly drawn around himself and I support the board's decision. A board isnt there just to rubber stamp the director's agendas. Like many in the art scene here, I could say more but am trying to be charitable.

Here is Disjecta's Board of Directors response... I hope Portland can learn from this:

"Statement to Disjecta's Friends and Supporters,

The most successful arts organizations encourage dialogue and community. To those of you that reached out to the board in response to an email from disjecta@comcast.net (not the organization's server), thank you for your messages and for your belief in Disjecta. We hope you continue to participate in Disjecta's future.

Initially, the Disjecta Board of Directors felt it would be neither appropriate nor respectful to Bryan Suereth to go into detail about the inner workings of our decision-making, but in the spirit of accuracy and balance, we offer the following:

Beginning in late 2015, and following an extensive evaluation process involving 100% of the board, external stakeholders, advisors, and recommendations from recent curators and artists, the Disjecta board determined that a different kind of leader was needed to carry Disjecta's important work forward.

Honesty, integrity, transparency, respect, and confidentiality are the values we need to advance Disjecta's mission and organizational strength. Consistent, seasoned leadership skills that offer effective and encouraging support to staff, ongoing and responsive communication, strategic capacity, and the ability to intelligently marshall Disjecta's excellent programs forward are also what we need to be able to bring Disjecta to the next level of artistic excellence.

Bryan Suereth built a valuable resource for this community with help from funders and an enormous amount of volunteer and in-kind services. Disjecta is a nonprofit. It is not his to own. This is a painful reality for any founder. We understand the enormous sacrifice and dedication he brought to Disjecta. That does not change the fact that at sixteen years old, Disjecta needs a different kind of leader.

Six months ago, the Disjecta board began discussions with Suereth regarding his transition from the role of executive director. He resisted the board's initial offer to remain connected with the organization after December 31st in a paid role as Founding Advisor for six months, with the ability to apply for board membership in the future.

Planning for his departure from the organization, various members of the Disjecta board met with Suereth to discuss a division of assets (tools and equipment), the date by which he would cease renting a studio in the Disjecta facility (also December 31st, a two-month extension), and to agree to his request to take advantage of Disjecta's nonprofit status for non-competing events and programs, including producing two events per year at Disjecta (Suereth never responded to this agreement to his request). Throughout those conversations, over many months, the board reconfirmed Bryan Suereth's last day with Disjecta as December 31st, 2016. He reviewed and approved the November 16th press release announcing his transition. We offered a celebration of his leadership at the November benefit auction. He declined.

In mid-early December, a group in support of Mr. Suereth appealed to the board to reinstate him as paid staff – and pledged to contribute/raise additional funds from current and new donors if he were to be reinstated. The Disjecta board invited representatives of that group to our meeting on December 20th for a frank discussion of Mr. Suereth's management style and the plans to engage new leadership. We did not discuss the details of any financial pledges. The Disjecta board invited future conversation with this group and continues to do so: we hope they will remain dedicated to Disjecta’s mission and participate in its future.

On December 31st, 2016, the date by which he was to vacate his position and his studio at Disjecta, Mr. Suereth presented the board with an unusually self-serving lease that he had signed with himself for continued use of studio space at Disjecta, through 2018, with a right to renew. The lease had not been revealed nor its terms mentioned to anyone before that date, and it values the space at less than half of what Disjecta, a 501(c)3, pays for it and is far below what Disjecta could earn from its rental. Mr. Suereth maintains that there was nothing unethical in his dealing himself such a favorable situation, a deal that essentially reduces the assets of the organization. That night he built a wall restricting access to the organization's offices; it remains today and the entire staff is working from a small adjoining studio.

In addition to the performance issues raised previously, this instance of self-dealing violates the most basic of nonprofit principles: that individuals associated with a nonprofit put the mission of an organization before any individual gain.

The Disjecta board knows that money and resources are important to every nonprofit. But it also knows that leadership and integrity are essential to the success of any endeavor. Leading up to this moment we have worked hard to honor Mr. Suereth's legacy. But the mobilizing of groups to block Disjecta's progress, final-hour email campaigns using an email list that does not belong to him, and other transgressions are hurting Disjecta and distracting everyone from the important work at hand.

As a board, we are devoted-now more than ever-to supporting a Disjecta that is growing, maturing, and continuing to provide outstanding programming and opportunities for artists, curators, and art lovers. A strong staff team is in place, and there has been significant interest in Disjecta's national search for a permanent executive director.

To that end, while some in the national arts community are calling for an art strike tomorrow (Friday, January 20th, 2017), Disjecta will be open from noon to 5pm. We invite you to visit curator Michele Fiedler's show Oh Time Your Gilded Pages, and to experience contemporary art in a facility where admission is always free, where new ideas and concepts are always encouraged, and where respecting all artists is at its core-a welcoming and invigorating place for everyone.

Thank you for your support, The Disjecta Board of Directors"

I wish the institution and founder both luck, they are two different entities. It is somewhat tragic that Disjecta's founder never learned the lessons people were patiently waiting for him to take to heart. Yet he is the one who made it have to play out this way, putting both himself and the organization on trial. That zero sum thinking illustrates why his ouster was inevitable and who made it so. I can say I've been to the space since the founder was asked to leave and the overall vibe was more inviting and the work better installed.

*Update: Disjecta's website was hacked on Friday January 20th... related or not it fits the "low road" patterns I have long found distasteful and am heartened its era is over.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on January 19, 2017 at 15:08 | Comments (0)


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