Culture of Fear

I haven’t commented on the Scottsdale Cultural Council lately, mainly because nothing seems to be happening over there. Which is, in and of itself, a problem. Cultural arts should be about things happening. Events, exhibits, performances. But SCC soldiers on in its traditional self-serving mode, in the free facilities provided by the taxpayers of Scottsdale, and with $4 million dollars worth of our money funding…largely nothing. They have a 20-year, no-bid “management services agreement” that has no performance metrics. Is anyone surprised that this kind of subsidy gets no results?

In fairness, there are some interesting events, performances, and exhibits. However, for many reasons SCC seems to always have trouble getting the word out, and selling tickets. I’ve tried to help by highlighting these activities on my weekly calendars, but there’s still a disconnect.

Cultural Council CEO Bill Banchs

About the most exciting thing the Cultural Council has produced lately is the wildly popular dramatic performance, “Over My Dead Body.” It is a tragicomic portrayal of the struggle for leadership of the good ship Public Art, between Captain Queeg Banchs and Lieutenant Homer. The crew all hate the captain and they’ve lost all respect for him, to say nothing of his his ability to keep the ship off the rocks. The LT is handcuffed by an uncaring naval bureaucracy and will likely be keel-hauled for her loyalty to the crew and common sense.

However, the brass has dictated a consultant be hired (like a good bureaucracy always does), and that a kangaroo court martial be convened in the form of a task force of insiders who caused the problem in the first place by ignoring the captain’s incapacity for leadership.

I was a bit surprised today to see a “My Turn” column on this situation from Public Art Advisory Board member Bob Frost in today’s Scottsdale Republic. Yet again, I scratch my head as to why the Republic doesn’t post My Turn columns on AZ Central. But no worries, I’ve posted it here:

I recently attended the public art task force meeting to share a comment and ask a question. The task force is made up of Cultural Council members, Public Art [Advisory] Board members, a member of the City Council, two city staff members and a citizen representative (who resigned). They were asked to review the Scottsdale Public Art master plan and make recommendations to the Cultural Council. By the way, other members of the Public Art board were told they could attend but were forbidden from speaking. What are they afraid of?

When I got about half way through reading my short two paragraph comment, I was interrupted and told they already knew this. I didn’t get to finish by saying, “I fear that your task is being managed from behind the scenes and that you are being manipulated into a direction that is being guided by the Cultural Council administration. I urge you to think about why this is happening.”

Scottsdale’s Public Art Program is one of the finest in the country. According to the consultant and Scottsdale citizens, for the program to continue to grow it needs be its own separate not-for-profit organization where it will be able to fundraise, to obtain grants, and be more open and responsive to our citizens.  Recent Cultural Council action drives home and supports the point that to the Cultural Council, the Scottsdale Public Art Program is a stepchild. It has denied a public art grant, hired development directors for the performing arts and the museum of contemporary art but not public art and not filling part-time and full-time positions over the past two years.

Sonja Haller wrote on Saturday, “Public Art Stance Softened.” The Public Art master plan consultant recommended that the Public Art program should separate from the Scottsdale Cultural Council. He made this recommendation based on a community involved process over the past two years and his analysis of the current growth and financial needs of the program. Allen’s stance was “softened” for him by the Cultural Council. The recommendation now says, “Explore” the concept of separation. He agreed to this change as he said: “I’m afraid the plan would have died otherwise.”

I’m wondering who will do this “exploring?” And, will the results of the “exploration” ever reach the light of day?  Consultant Jerry Allen is a nationally recognized and respected public art consultant.  His credentials are impeccable. He called to interview me as I was one of the participants in the master planning process and also as one of the people responsible for starting the public art program for Scottsdale. Allen told me that the next step in the planning process required him to come to Scottsdale to interview members of the city council and key department heads as to the feasibility of his forty-one recommendations.

When he called to confirm, he [Allen] was told by Bill Banchs, CEO of the Cultural Council that they could not afford to have him come out, that he could speak to them by phone. Mr. Allen knowing how important these face-to-face meetings were offered to come on his own dime. He was then told he could not come.

Scottsdale needs to ask, “What is the Cultural Council afraid of? Do they want to do what is in the best interest of the community and if so why can’t they allow an open community dialogue?  If not, what are they afraid of?”

Bob Frost, retired general manager for the City of Scottsdale, and former director of the Scottsdale Center for the Arts

I should also mention that in response to a recent non-compliance finding by the Scottsdale City Auditor, the Cultural Council has undertaken a review of their AZ Open Meeting Law (OML) policies. SCC is bound by its city contract to follow the city’s example in following the OML, except under rare circumstances. Since Banchs and his Board of Trustees have claimed the city audit was “clean,” I’ll give you three guesses as to whether their new OML policy will be more “open” that the old one. And the first two guesses don’t count.

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2 Comments

  1. A commenter who wished to remain anonymous emailed me with these comments yesterday. JW.

    It’s become a farce amongst the culture of fear cultivated by the captain. Almost not worth your time to write about it. But now it’s a matter of will and time.

    Banchs has systematically shackled the public art program, a fact that can be proven if one evaluated the history–financial, staffing, and performance demands. Does his client want the fruit tree to completely die before they realize he’s cut all the branches??

    John, the fear I had foreseen, has persisted as Scottsdale’s reality–that there is no leadership at city council on the subject. The “Scottsdale level of arts services” that I was once proud of is going down unchecked, and falling along the wayside. It is not caused by the economy, as some might have us believe.

    Jerry Allen could tell you what’s going to happen to the public art program. Structurally, it’s a predictable situation and the result of a perfect storm that has taken years to brew. He’s seen power struggles with these kind of programs.

    Let’s make a bet: I predict that the public art program will have to start defaulting on it’s deliverables before city Council wakes up. I also predict the master plan will be shelved perhaps before being competed, and if it’s completed it will be obsolete by the time the ink is dry.

    Sorry for my lack of optimism at the moment. After watching the situation continue to unravel and fester, I see now that the situation is going to have to hit rock bottom, which apparently is at the end of a very long tunnel. Then, from the rubble a slow emergence of clarity and vision…

    New leadership this fall??

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