Culture Shift. Again.

The Scottsdale Cultural Council just announced the hiring of a new president. Woo hoo. Let’s go to Linda Milhaven’s bar district and celebrate. Then we can take a pedicab ride down Scottsdale Road at midnight and play dodge-the-drunk-driver.

In all seriousness, “Welcome to Scottsdale,” Mr. Neale Perl. I hope you have a clear understanding of what our ‘cultural problems’ really are. Here’s a hint: Your predecessor was indeed the village idiot…but that wasn’t the problem.

The problem is the set-up. SCC is a private business (albeit with ‘non-profit’ tax status) which has been given all kinds of corporate welfare and never had to work for anything. It enjoys a 20-year, no-bid contract worth probably $10 million a year if you count annual cash subsidies, free rent, and no requirement to share any ticket revenue back with the City.

The City Council (including former SCC board chair Linda Milhaven, who is ostensibly a conservative Republican and is running for re-election) has never as a body asked any serious questions about SCC finances, because they use the organization as their own personal taxpayer-funded entertainment.

And the City contract with the Cultural Council (styled as a ‘management services agreement’) is so poorly written that there are no objective deliverables or performance metrics. They could program ZERO shows or exhibitions and still be in compliance with the contract.

With an offensively favorable contract and no backbone among our elected representatives (save Bob Littlefield, soon to depart for state legislature, and Guy Phillips) to demand any sort of real value analysis, The City of Scottsdale and the Scottsdale Cultural Council will continue to be the laughingstock of cultural arts professionals across the country.

I won’t even get into the pathetic ‘leadership’ of the Cultural Council’s Board of Trustees, which sat on their hands while Bill Banchs plundered the place, and while he ran off the individual who is most responsible for building Scottsdale’s Public Art program.

And the Arizona Republic always forgets that Banchs’ first cowardly act of self-protection was to ax the head of the Center for Performing Arts in order to replace him with a skateboard shop manager. Since he departed SCPA, Jeff Babcock found a new home as managing director at the Stanford Jazz Workshop, where he has brought new energy to their widely-acclaimed programs.

I note parenthetically that the organization Neale Perl is departing–Washington Performing Arts Society–has a CharityNavigator rating that’s only one star above the Cultural Council’s traditional one-star ‘do not donate’ rating. In fact, whoever’s cooking the books at the Cultural Council these days has managed to massage the numbers enough (after my complaints) so they currently have THREE stars. Woo hoo again. But it’s also ironic that they’ve hired someone with an even WORSE track record than they currently enjoy themselves!

I love the little soundbite quotes with which incoming presidents of organizations love to salt their interviews. Perl’s: “”I am bringing a Rolodex full of national and international partnerships.”

Anyone remember Bill Banchs’ introductory soundbite? “Hold onto your wallet.” Yep. That may replace “The West’s Most Western Town” as Scottsdale’s motto.



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