As current and former presidents of the board of the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), we believe it is appropriate to respond to some aspects of the "Lost Art" article (June 5) that are inaccurate, misleading and just plain false. For the record, it would not have been difficult for the writer to contact all of us. The fact that only one unnamed board member was mentioned indicates to us that the writer and Gambit failed to do as journalists do and fact check not only with the staff at the CAC, but delve deeper and interview current and former leaders of the board to present a fuller picture of the situation. The inability to contact one particular person, as has been suggested, does not negate trying to contact others.
Let's set the record straight on a few points in the article. Dan Cameron was not "dismissed." He had been retained as a part-time visual arts director allowing both the CAC's finances to recover from Katrina and Cameron the ability to work on other projects, particularly Prospect.1. When the contract expired, the CAC was in a more secure financial position to hire a full-time visual arts director and Cameron was necessarily focused on other matters relating to Prospect. Regardless of the assertions made, this was no mystery. No explanation was withheld from anyone; in fact a press release was issued explaining the contract expiration and the CAC's desire to seek out a full-time director.
Secondly, the writer states that the board has questions to answer regarding CAC's losses noted on its tax returns filed with the state. He did not ask, but we will answer anyway. Most of the losses are the result of paper losses due to the depreciation of the building. To a lesser degree, there are losses due to calendar changes of grant funding that hit our books after the close of our fiscal year.
Next, the article questions the use of the building to raise revenue. Let us explain. The building contains 100,000 square feet, which is three to four times the size needed to fulfill the CAC's mission. To support the mission and to pay to operate such a large building, the CAC must monetize the extra space. It is simply the prudent thing to do, and in the current economic climate, it is necessary.
The writer focused on the failure to achieve the 2007 Strategic Plan's goal to triple the endowment. While we wish he had reported that about 90 percent of the 2007 Strategic Plan goals were met, the writer simply ignores the massive recession in 2008. Due to the drastic cuts in arts funding and donations, tripling the CAC's endowment was unrealistic.
Finally, to imply that Jay Weigel is not present at the CAC in pursuit of his music career is patently false. Jay has been a dedicated executive director and has been available at all times. Let us remind everyone that without Jay's leadership and financial stewardship, there is no telling where the CAC would be today after Katrina or possibly whether it would exist at all. Jay has been a relentless and excellent spokesperson for all of the arts in New Orleans and has earned the respect of the broader arts community. To vilify him and his staff is just plain wrong.
There seems to be the feeling of some that the CAC is a closed organization — nothing can be further from the truth. Since the inception of the CAC, artists — visual and/or performing — have been and will continue to be members of the board. Anyone wishing to get involved may get involved. Volunteerism at the CAC needs no invitation.
The CAC is listening and responding to community feedback. We urge dissatisfied individuals to get involved in the institution so that they truly appreciate the balancing act the CAC undertakes in fulfilling its core mission as a multi-disciplinary arts center in light of the economic, infrastructure and other realities in which the CAC, as other institutions, now operates. We wish that your writer had explored these realities more deeply.
Robyn Dunn Schwarz, CAC president
Bennett K. Davis, past president
James Mounger, past president
Mark Jeanfreau, board member
EDITOR'S NOTE: During production of this story, Gambit repeatedly requested interviews with CAC Board President Robyn Dunn Schwartz and 2012 Strategic Plan developer Allen Eskew via phone and email. Although Gambit reached Schwartz and talked with Eskew's office, we were not granted interviews with either.