More Cultural Pandering

I received an anonymous letter today that reads:

What’s up at the Scottsdale Cultural Council? Noises from the community are echoing similar concerns heard before the last CEO left.

New CEO plans include dissolving the division advisory boards, demoting division VPs, and remodeling current offices to include his own plush quarters with windows overlooking the park. Was hired as an avid and professional fundraiser [I’ve heard that before. Remember Bill Banchs’ “Hold onto your wallet?”] but results are zero. From the outside world it appears that Mr. [Neal] Perl expects the City of Scottsdale to cover his deficits.

Vibrations from within and noises from the community could, once again, negatively affect this arts organization.

Who is checking on this? Will the chair [Ellen Andres-Schneider, last time I checked], board, and community allow this arts organization to continue to fail?

Normally, I wouldn’t publish an anonymous letter, and certainly not without some independent verification. However, this registers well with recent events, so I’ll–in the parlance of City Planning and Zoning–amend my standards this once.

If you’ve been a ScottsdaleTrails reader for more than a little while, you know my feelings about the Scottsdale Cultural Council. I believe it was set up to steal money from the taxpayers of Scottsdale, and given a 20-year, no-bid contract, with no objective performance measures. This private business also enjoys free rent in taxpayer owned facilities (largely maintained at taxpayer expense), and they get to keep all the proceeds from ticket sales…on top of a $4 million annual taxpayer-funded cash subsidy.

Current Vice Mayor Linda Milhaven was the chairman of the SCC board of trustees who hired previous, disastrous CEO Bill Banchs. She nursed and protected him until he was fired late-summer 2013 when no one was in-town to witness it.

Neale Perl, Scottsdale Cultural Council CEO

So, what IS up with the new guy, Neale Perl? If you were a ScottsdaleTrails reader last August, you already know that at that time he looked a lot like the last guy (if not, you can catch up by reading the previous articles). The ensuing eight months haven’t done much to change that outlook.

In fact, Perl came before Mayor Jim Lane, Vice Mayor Linda Milhaven, and the City Council a couple of weeks ago (page 15) with the eternally-outstretched hand looking for $1.5 million supplement to their annual subsidy. Which is to say, a 40% raise.

Not that I blame Perl, nor did I blame Bill  Banchs. It’s the board’s responsibility to hire the talent. Or lack thereof. But this board seems to be bent on hiring only someone who will do their bidding…which is rarely in-line with providing service to the community which is commensurate with their subsidy from the community. Thus, we’ll get more programming relevant only to the board, not the taxpayers.

BTW, that board of trustees includes:

  • Ellen Andres-Schneider, Chair
  • Ken Olson, Vice Chair/Treasurer
  • Ed Howard, Secretary
  • Jennifer Anderson
  • Andrew Chippindall
  • Don Cogman
  • Stephen Crosby
  • Rich Felder
  • Leonard Gubar
  • Richard Hayslip (former interim CEO)
  • Mark Hiegel
  • Rick Kidder (CEO of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce)
  • Mike Medici
  • Mike Miller
  • JP Millon
  • John Morrell
  • Rock Rickert
  • Terry Roberts
  • Bret Sassenberg
  • Diana Smith (David Smith’s wife)
  • Gerri Smith
  • Vicki Smith
  • Nora Trulsson
  • James Bruner, Trustee Emeritus

A couple of pertinent and notable quotes appeared in a Phoenix New Times column today by Becky Bartkowski (@beckybartkowski). First, rookie Councilman David Smith, former Scottsdale City Treasurer whose wife serves on the Cultural Council board of Trustees (no guesses as to how he’ll vote on the supplemental subsidy):

“Given the SCC’s independence from the City, we are not necessarily apprised of their internal organizational plans.”

I think Councilman Smith should look up the definition of “independence,” because in my book it doesn’t include a $4 million annual cash subsidy.

And then there’s respected, longtime gallery owner Lisa Sette: (@settegallery,

If the rumors [of senior staff firings] prove true, Sette says, Scottsdale will become insignificant in the art world after years of success and notoriety. “They’re going to lose all of that momentum.”

I think the Cultural Council has long been irrelevant to real culture in Scottsdale, which is represented by a host of private galleries, performance organizations which don’t get taxpayer subsidies, and individual artists with studios in Scottsdale. You could get rid of the whole Cultural Council (with apologies to many good employees there) and the art world wouldn’t even notice.

Please feel free to send in your comments. If you are a first-time commenter, I’ll have to approve your comment before it will post. However, aside from profanity or obvious defamation, I normally approve all comments in the form in which I receive them. And all subsequent comments should post automatically.

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