From: Angela Berry

Date: Tues, April 3, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Subject: Hope for the CAC

 
Dear CAC Board,

 I am the former Visual Arts Coordinator who resigned along with Amy Mackie two weeks ago. The fact that there are no creative programmers to work for at the CAC made my decision to leave obvious.  Who would I work for? Development? Accounting? Had there been an Education Director, I could have entertained an opportunity in a different department, but there has yet to be a search for one since Marie Lamb left in November, and we lost the remaining education supervisor, Libby Vieira da Cunha this past month to Young Audiences.  I also choose to leave my position, because I do not trust the work environment to be healthy, professional, safe, and productive without a boss, such as Amy, who has a professional practice within those standards.  Almost more significantly though, there is no one who I feel that I can or would want to learn from or be inspired by remaining on staff. The morale at the CAC is low.  It is awkward and disempowering working in an office with no leadership. I’ve seen both Johnny King (former Exhibitions Manager) and Libby Vieira da Cunha (Marie’s former assistant who stayed on until last week as Teen Board Coordinator) work alone in their offices.  My experience working with Amy was so energizing, inspiring, positive, and productive that I would rather take that energy somewhere else that can sustain it, rather than letting the energy dissipate at the CAC.  

It was an incredible honor to have had the opportunity to work alongside Amy Mackie this past year.  Amy is not only extremely talented, but is 100% engaged, committed, present, and active in making her projects happen.  Most of the projects I worked on under Amy, were either resisted or flat out negated, but our team was told to go forward regardless of the resistance she encountered.  The fact that Amy gave up means the circumstances were impossible to work with.  I’ve never known Amy not to succeed or work through an obstacle, but she honestly did not believe that things would change given the supporting structures lack of effective leadership, management, and accountability.

More importantly, why did you go to the trouble of initiating a national search for an established and respected curator, if you are supporting an environment that makes successful execution of their job so impossible or damaging that they would need to leave within a year?  Amy’s frustrations were made known to all of the parties that have control over the circumstance at the CAC changing and she met support behind closed doors, but isolation in public. Everyone is powerless! No one can do anything! Having spent four months in Berlin studying the psychology of Totalitarian communities, I do not sympathize with this feeling of being “powerless” against the democratic structures of the CAC. In fact, I am outraged, that those who have say, have been silent and that those inactions not only resulted in the departure of Amy Mackie and William Downs from New Orleans, but divisiveness amongst the art community. The only action Amy had not tried was resigning – and this should have come as no surprise to anyone on staff or on the board. The Board is the last line of defense, and it is the ineffectiveness of the Board that has enabled the CAC’s disconnection with the mission to deepen and dissipate more and more over time. 

Your responsibility is stated clearly in the Board of Directors position description:

“Approve CAC’s philosophy, as expressed in its vision and mission statements and review management’s performance in achieving it. Annually assess the environment in which CAC operates and review CAC’s strategic plan in relation to it (rumor is that a strategic plan has not been made since 2007). Annually review, approve, and accept responsibility for CAC’s plans for funding its strategic plan. Review and approve CAC’s longer-term financial goals (event rentals?). Annually review and approve CAC’s budget. Hire, monitor, appraise, stimulate, reward, and if necessary, fire the Executive Director. Be assured that management succession is properly being provided. Approve appropriate compensation and benefit policies and practices. Annually approve the performance review of the Executive Director and establish his or her compensation based upon recommendations of the Executive Committee. Determine eligibly for and appoint Board committees in response to recommendations of the Board Development Committee. Review and accept CAC’s audited financial statements.”

 Your individual responsibilities are stated as follows:

“Be an informed advocate for the CAC in the community (How many of you all were surprised by Amy’s departure? Or out of 40, attended the last round of openings?). Speak out on CAC’s behalf, emphasizing its artistic, cultural, economic and educational importance to the City (There is a huge problem here. Out of almost 100 comments on the NOLA.com articles about the recent circumstances, there is not one positive comment about the center. Are you not speaking up because you are this dis-engaged or because you can’t back the center right now with a good conscious?).”

Figuring out the steps the CAC need to take to move forward from its current history is not rocket science!! The issues are clear – lack of leadership, mis-management, and as Jay Weigel was recently quoted in the recent Times-Picayune article Artists protest Contemporary Arts Center policy, withdraw art, the recent “downturns in donations from corporations and grant-making agencies” making fund-raising “a battle.” This is clearly an issue with development.  In the staff meeting following last year’s Whitney White Linen night it was bragged that the event had made us “two weeks payroll.”  That sentiment seemed very odd coming from the Associate Director of the museum and really a rather depressing one.  It would have been much more inspiring to hear “We’ve raised enough money to successfully fund the new performance series…!” Amy Mackie also proposed contacting Saks Fifth Avenue to Merit Shalott for the sponsorship of a new mural on the Andrew Higgins St. exterior of the building, a suggestion that fell on deaf ears.  NOMA is now being sponsored by Saks. There were multiple instances of the Visual Arts Department not being informed about visitors to the CAC who we could have made a professional connection or deeper relationship with, such as the Creative Alliance for New Orleans’s February event recently held at the CAC. You can not succeed in developing the center without connecting the appropriate professionals with the appropriate staff members. Amy was leaving the building for a lunch meeting that day when she was stopped by Gene Nathan and asked to give a tour, which she had to awkwardly pass up.

 The CAC’s obstacles are not impossible to overcome, and even more so, when comparing our necessary steps with other institutions nationally, we are in fine shape. Our building space is not a problem. Our rent is not an issue.  It seems absurd to me that it’s been four years and the CAC has not made steps to climate control the third floor. It is so close to being able to exist as actual exhibition space, but the executive staff actually mentioned renting it out in one of the last staff meetings I attended. As many of the St. Claude collectives have echoed, they run successful galleries with no staff and no money.   

It is a given that the search to replace your previous all star curators will become more and more challenging as the reputation of the center diminishes with each employee that resigns.  The CAC has received embarrassingly negative feedback online from the local community – imagine a perspective curator or education director googling their new potential employer and coming upon the recent nola.com articles?  If there is not significant action at this moment in the institutions history than there is no hope for the CAC. I imagine there should be necessary repercussions outlined for internal action in the bylaws of the institution, but am not optimistic that the appropriate actions will be implemented. Imagine looking back and seeing a dramatic shift in it’s 35th year, that still seems probable, but digging yourselves out of this mess at 50 years? That is a lot less probable. Look at your legacy, look at the history of the New Orleans arts community and your contribution to it, please ACT.      

My intention as an employee of the CAC has always been to be apart of a community like the one Amy has fostered and to work tirelessly supporting the mission of providing quality art programming to the community. It is a problem that this community can not exist without someone like Amy Mackie directing Visual Arts and honestly, how can you feel justified putting another person in the same position.  Amy related the feeling of her experience at the CAC as a bird whose wings were ripped off the moment she arrived and then expected to bring the center to new heights regardless.

 This has been an extremely upsetting reality to face and I am not alone in being so discouraged and effected by this abrupt change in circumstances at the center.  However, I whole-heartedly support Amy’s resignation.  In Marie Lamb’s absence, supervising the remaining education staff and programming fell on Amy. I spent a week compiling a list of art publications and magazines (a 13 page document) to give to the Marketing and Communications department, because a list with the contemporary contacts did not already exist at the center.  Amy’s ties to Art Forum and Art Papers are the reason the Spaces show is going to be reviewed by these respected art journals.  Amy spent countless energy trying to market and raise money for her programs, introducing grants and foundations to development to consider, despite how much her co-workers were unwelcoming to these efforts. Most directly, she faced tremendous disrespect, hostility, and vindictiveness from the Development Department heads, Christina Carr and Merit Shalott. There was no way to sustain the pace facing such resistance and lack of support. One of the artists we were working with for our fall exhibition, Shinique Smith, is represented by Yvon Lambert, a top international gallery, and the potential risk of the CAC facing a law suit due to breaches in contract, such as what is now happening with the current exhibitions, was a serious concern. 

My first significant experience with art came at a young age.  The weekend after I got my first pair of glasses (age two) my parents took me on a train to Washington, DC to visit the National Gallery of Art.  My first clear sight of the world was the humbling experience of looking at art and my parents like to describe me as wide eyed and speechless. The success of a culture has historically been reflected by the quality of its art. Having had to intercept a vomiting patron in the middle of the first floor gallery during White Linen Night as well as two patrons greeting eachother while sloshing beer down a four million dollar canvas, I’d say there is a ways to go before the CAC contributes to such greatness. The good or bad news is that it’s possible and it’s up to you.     

Angela Berry

(Former Visual Arts Coordinator, also previously acting Gallery Guard, Receptionist, Barista, Bartender, House Manager, Visual Arts Instructor, Art Handler, and Visual Arts Assistant for the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans (CAC) from 2008 – 2012)

 

From: Jessica Bizer

Dear Contemporary Art Center Board of Directors,



As a founding member of Good Children Gallery, I appreciate the Contemporary Arts Center’s efforts to showcase work from the St, Claude-area collectives.  However, the manner in which the CAC handled filming for The Tomb led me to pull my work from Spaces.

I’m not bothered by the movie rental on principle.  I understand that many institutions rent out their spaces for a variety of events and this activity is critical source of funding.  I also accept that such rentals may interrupt scheduled exhibition hours.

However, the CAC did not give Spaces artists any advance notice of the closure planned for April.  I learned of the schedule change while working with fellow Good Children Gallery member Lala Rascic on her Posing Process piece. She found out about the movie during a chance encounter with film crew members.  The CAC informed artists of the schedule change only after many of us complained to Jay Weigel.  This situation is unacceptable and is the the reason I removed my work from the exhibition.  The CAC should have notified artists as soon as the institution made the schedule changes. 

While I believe this situation is the result of an accidental oversight, rather than an intentional slight towards the artists, the issue leads me to be concerned about the priorities of the CAC.  By failing to inform us, the CAC demonstrated disrespect toward the artists it is supposed to be an advocate for.  

Additionally, the unannounced closure is troubling for the impact it could have on artists’ careers.  A sudden schedule change could lead an artist to miss out on critical professional opportunities. For instance, when I have an exhibition, I invite fellow art professionals, such as curators, critics and other artists to view the show. Often these individuals are visiting from out-of -town and have only a brief period of time in which to see my work. Such  visits are a critical component of promoting my artwork and maintaining professional relationships.  I would be terribly embarrassed and disappointed if one of these visitors arrived at the CAC, only to find that the building is closed. 

Also, it is clear from previous film shoots during Spaces that the CAC has been a poor advocate for protecting artists’ work  (Rachel Brown’s and Bob Snead’s pieces for example). This behavior makes me concerned about the shoot in April. 

Addressing such issues is critical to the future success of the CAC.  I believe the institution can learn from its professional missteps during Spaces.  I hope this letter, and the letters of my colleagues, are starting points for a constructive dialogue between artists and board members.



Sincerely,



Jessica Bizer

Good Children Gallery

From: Courtney Egan

Date: Mon, Apr 2, 2012 at 10:26 AM
Subject: Re: A CAC we can embrace

Dear CAC Board,

For the better part of two decades I’ve been a member of the CAC, as well as an artist who has shown at CAC, and an observer.  I have taught at NOCCA for 10 years, and have been a part of the slow and difficult work of building a department and maintaining the effectiveness and the reputation of an institution.   I am also a founding member of Antenna.

The current uproar over the CAC’s management of space and communications with artists echoes  events that took place over a decade ago, when the local arts community had serious concerns about ethics violations within the CAC.  Once again, it was Mr. Weigel at the helm, and one of the issues was a non-profit director presenting his own work at the CAC.

I am now disturbed to see how the current turn of events have upset a large faction of the St. Claude arts community.  Several artists have pulled their artwork out of the Spaces and NOLA Now show, and a majority has left artwork at the CAC as an act of faith, without an advocate, in an institution that is perceived as untrustworthy.  

I think this act of faith should be viewed as positive by the board – an indication that the arts community wants to see the CAC reflect our city’s vibrancy and is willing to work with the institution, advocate or no advocate.  I think the bottom line of the message is that we are not going away.

But we also wants to see innovative and challenging programming, work from artists nationwide and worldwide.  This doesn’t happen without a visual arts curator.  And by the way, what happened to the education director? 

The need to hire a visual arts director and education director is pressing and must happen quickly and transparently.  No doubt this will be a difficult task with the current climate at the CAC and it has me worried.  To have Amy Mackie leave after only 18 months is like loosing 18 months of planning for the future of the organization.

I understand that balancing the need for revenue with programming is a pressing issue for such a large space.  However, artists need better communication and advocacy within the CAC.  It’s obvious that the CAC’s relationship with visual arts programming has been in peril since Hurricane Katrina.

I wish for the board to directly and swiftly address these issues.

Sincerely,

Courtney Egan

 

From: Andrea Ferguson

Date: Mon, Apr 2, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Subject: A CAC we can Embrace

Dear Board of Directors, 
My name is Andrea Ferguson and I am one of the artists with work currently on exhibition in Spaces.  Although I have lived in New Orleans for nearly 5 years and was a founding member of The Front in 2008, I still feel like a relative newcomer to the New Orleans arts community.  In many ways, since I arrived in the city in 2007, New Orleans has been rich with opportunity for me as an emerging artist. I was awarded a residency at LA Artworks and shortly there after was invited to help form The Front.  Even though my experience at LA Artworks was generally disappointing, it lead to my engagement with the artists working on St. Claude which has been extremely rewarding and fruitful.  It is an absolute pleasure to dedicate my free time to The Front and I cannot express how deeply I respect everyone involved with making the entire St. Claude art community function as a vibrant locus for contemporary art in New Orleans. The hard work of everyone involved should be noticed and celebrated (and is every 2nd Saturday).  Unfortunately, what was meant to do exactly that has proven to be little more than another frustrating obstacle for us to endure and overcome.
 
It was not until we began planning this exhibition that I had any real experience with the CAC and as a result, I feel ill equipped to  speak about the years of dysfunction that frustrate so many of my colleagues. I will say, however, that my singular experience with the CAC has been fairly unpleasant and discouraging overall.  In the case of this particular exhibit, a simple lack of communication from the CAC about several issues surrounding the show have myself, and I’m fairly certain, the entire St. Claude art community feeling disrespected, undervalued and generally confused (among other things).  What’s worse to me though is how participating in this exhibit has proven to be extremely divisive and damaging, and has threatened the very connectivity it’s meant to celebrate.  For that, I hold the CAC accountable.  
 
As you meet and plan for the future I ask that you consider the artists represented in the Spaces exhibit as  part of your constituency.  Please be critical of the particular issues surrounding Spaces, as well as of the CAC’s ability to serve the visual art community on a whole.  While I can only speak for myself, I am certain that aside from all of the frustration and bad feelings, everyone’s end goal is for a more successful and productive Contemporary Art Center.  I am certainly committed to helping to achieve that however I am able.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance.
 
Very Best, 
– Andrea Ferguson
Senior Media Editor
The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

From: Brook Pickett

To All it May Concern:

I am writing to echo many of the thoughtful and articulate letters you have been receiving from my peers, as well as to share my own personal experience with the Contemporary Art Center.

Along with many of the artists from the St. Claude Art Collectives, I was drawn to New Orleans by the exciting contemporary art scene here. In the last 5 years New Orleans has become a national, if not international, platform for contemporary art and it continues to attract visual artists from all over the world.

In many ways, my first experience with the CAC should have been a dream come true. Amy Mackie, having only been in New Orleans for a short time, set out to visit every gallery and attend as many openings as possible. This is exactly what one would hope a visual arts director would do. From what I could see, she worked to understand the gallery scene here on St. Claude- one that has been called one of the most important collective scenes in the country.

From a group show that I participated in at The Front, Amy took notice of my work and offered me my first solo show.  ’The Center Cannot Hold’ opened in June 2011 and ran through September 2011.

With a few exceptions, it was clear to me that the staff had no concern or respect for me as an artist, or for my work. I immediately felt like a nuisance, and although the visual arts department did everything they could to hide this, it was clear that exhibiting art was/is not the priority.

Like ‘Spaces’, my show was closed several times without notice. I cannot say for how long, only that several guests from out of town visited the CAC only to find either ropes up blocking the show, or blank walls. The most blatant example of disrespect for the show was White Linen Night, when my work was taken down due to the big after-party hosted by your institution. Because your management was unwilling to protect the work, the show came down. White Linen Night should be an important opportunity for an emerging artist’s work to be seen by collectors, as well as a great opportunity to show what is supposed to be part of the CAC’s mission. Instead, what you communicated was that parties will always take priority over art, even during one of the biggest art events of the year.

I am not writing to fight for Amy Mackie. I am writing to fight for the next director of the visual arts department. If the CAC plans to continue as a nonprofit organization that promotes emerging as well as established artists from all over the world, the management must change. Every curator you lose, every artist that pulls their work, damages your national reputation. This damages your chances for future funding and future programming.

I’m appealing to you because I want to see the CAC be the beacon for contemporary art in the way it was supposed to be. You, as the board, have the power to make the changes necessary. I think this is your last chance to salvage what is left of the CAC.

Sincerely,

Brooke Pickett
Artist and member of The Front

 

Dear all,

 I would like to add an addendum to my previous letter to the board et al. Not only was my work taken down for White Linen Night, but for Bourbon and Burlesque as well. My show was hung for approximately 1 week, maybe less, before the entire show came down to accommodate women suspended from the ceiling. 

To sum up, my show was deinstalled for 2 of the 4 big art events held at the CAC last year. How can you still be considered a contemporary art center?

Brooke Pickett

From: Amanda Cassingham-Bardwell

Date: Sat, Mar 31, 2012 at 1:00 AM
Subject: Re: Spaces Show

Dear CAC Board of Directors,

(As well as those who have been forwarded this email,)

 When artists clashed with the CAC ten years ago I was an underclassman at Ben Franklin and NOCCA. I don’t think I heard anything about the event at that time. If I did, I forgot about it, being that I was fourteen. Clearly, the problems with the management of the CAC have not been solved since then, and now that I have grown up to be a practicing artist in New Orleans I have the pleasure of getting to participate in the current round of artists’ outcries. Hoorah!

Sufficient outlining of current issues with the direction of the CAC should already be present in many other artists’ letters. I would like to outline here my own dreams for an ideal Contemporary Arts Center:

> A landscape of jungle gyms, like a McDonald’s play place or that crazy ant farm maze at the arcade that was in Kenner in the 90′s!

> A petting zoo with chinchillas and goats and earless rabbits!

> A drive through or dine in water park, open all year long!

> A staff of arts administrators who will create positive collaborations with artists, bring national attention to our arts scene, and who won’t inevitably be chased away by the director with a big stick!

 Obviously, all but the last of those dreams are feeble attempts at humor. Really though, please, for the benefit of the entire arts community- not just the CAC- please, stop driving talented people out of New Orleans.

After getting wind of Spaces artists’ reactions to the resignations in the visual arts department Jay Weigel offered to work with the artists in the Spaces show to create additional programming during the exhibition. I don’t know why artists would want to take him up on this offer when we could have been working with the curators of the Spaces show had Jay not chased them away from the CAC. There are projects, such as Antenna’s Spaceward-Ho!  that were going to unfold throughout the duration of the exhibition but will no longer happen because there is not a curator or for that matter an entire art or education department with whom to collaborate. Such projects will just have to happen in other spaces where the artists can work alongside tolerable people.

The fact is, someone is being paid a salary (one which is considerably more than what many artists make in a year) to actively drive away talented arts administrators from the city. This is not only hurtful to the CAC as an institution, but it has a negative impact on the entire arts community.

I understand the necessity to balance income for the CAC with the programming. I don’t think there is anything wrong with renting out space or having events, so long as these rentals are not detrimental to the programming.  If the person in charge of navigating this balance fails to do so effectively, then it is time to find someone else to accomplish the task. CEO’s that can’t make money for their company are no longer CEO’s. Football coaches who can’t win games don’t stick around for twenty years, no matter how passionate they are about the sport.

At this point, I do not think the CAC will be able to attract a new visual arts curator with the talent of the people it has recently driven away. The only way the CAC can move forward as a relevant arts institution is to seek out a new, talented, director either from New Orleans or beyond. Inevitably, this change will also mean changes in the make-up of the board. It is natural in the course of an institution’s lifetime to turn over new directors after one person has been in place long enough, even when there is nothing wrong with that person’s direction. What is unnatural and backwards is to continue to pay the salary of a failing individual at the expense of an art community’s full potential.

Please, just bring us some people who will work with us, respect us, and inspire us. We’ll build the play places and the petting zoos.

Sincerely,

Amanda Cassingham-Bardwell
Antenna Gallery Collective Member

www.amandacassingham.com

acassingham@gmail.com

 

From: Ryan Watkins-Hughes

To all parties concerned,

After careful consideration and calculation of my budget, I’ve decided that it is imperative to make the following ‘items’ available for rental to anyone interested:

1. My space in the Nola Now Human Figure exhibition – My space in this show can be rented in 2 week ‘blocks’ or for the duration of the show. As the duration of the show is subject to change; additional time may become available or reservations may be cancelled with no notice. 
2. The current wall space occupied by my piece in the ‘Spaces’ show – This is only available for the remaining duration of the show and cannot be broken up into smaller blocks.
3. One exhibition ‘room’ at the Front for the course of one month later this year.
4. Ongoing membership in the Front on a yearly basis. 
5. Participation in my place for all exhibitions worldwide that I’m invited to for the next 3 years. (This is the only item with a predetermined price of $127,546)


To inquire about pricing and availability of any these items contact me directly at hello@watkinshughes.com. Please forward this email along to anyone who may be interested in one of the available offers.

There is an established precedent of artists ‘renting’ or selling their space in exhibitions to others and I am excited to offer this service to the vibrant New Orleans community moving forward.

All the best,

Ryan Watkins-Hughes

From: Dan Tague & Daphne Loney

Dan Tague and Daphne Loney- a CAC to embrace

We are removing our artwork from the spaces show at the CAC for the following reasons:

- I have received over 150 emails in the past 24 hours from members of the St Claude Collective which involved internal fighting over the intentions of the CAC towards the Spaces show. All of which were heartfelt, unnerving and many extremely critical of the performance of the director.
-The awkward replacement of Dan Cameron who I hold in the highest regard who brought new life and vigor to an ailing visual arts program and to New Orleans in general.
-The untimely resignation of the new Curator.
-The lack of communication from the CAC to the Artists in this show about scheduling and leadership shows a lack of respect and responsibility of the artwork itself and the reputations of the artists who entrusted you with their work. The CAC will never change with the current director. He was never qualified from the start, when he was appointed as interim director. Someone with actual experience who doesn’t split their time and energy with Hollywood would be more affective. Let’s compare the top 4 salaries at the CAC to the art budget. Are they worth the money? This seems to be the political climate of the city for a very long time. I just have higher expectations for an art center. How many protests, letters to the ‘board’, and walk outs do have to go through? There is one consistent figure who remains the reason for the growing list of disgruntled curators and artists. 

You know what needs to be done. Can you do it?

Sincerely,
Dan Tague and Daphne Loney

Ps. I hope this finds it’s way to the rest of the board, and not just to a
couple of members and Jay.

From: Susan Gisleson

Date: Mon, Apr 2, 2012 at 8:51 AM
Subject: A CAC we will embrace

Good Morning.
 
I am one of the founding members of Antenna Gallery in the Bywater as well as one of the founding members of Press Street, a literary and visual arts collective founded in 2005 (www.press-street.com) an organization that publishes books, started Antenna, the 24 Hour Draw-a-thon as well as other events and collaborations.  
 
When the Spaces show was first proposed, with Amy Mackie at the helm, I was thrilled on many levels.  That excitement turned to disappointment with her resignation and disgust with the way in which the CAC is run.  
 
I teach art full time to 6th-12th graders at Metairie Park Country Day School.  The other evening at our final gallery opening of the school year, I was discussing the artwork with several well respected, established local artists and the subject of the CAC came up. More than one person stated: “That place is a mess”.  I have yet to meet a professional artist or arts educator in this city who has said that the CAC is a viable, exciting or valuable organization.  The overall impression is that it is a broken, useless institution that needs help.  It seems like real change will only happen if Jay Weigel steps down and a visual arts director or curator takes the helm.  This sentiment is pretty unanimous.
 
The letters I have read regarding this episode have been detailed and eloquent and I don’t feel I could add anything else to this dialog that has not already been said.
 
Respectfully,
 
Susan Gisleson
 

From: Kyle Bravo

Date: Monday, April 2, 2012
Subject: My letter about this debacle

CAC Board, Jay, Merit, St. Claude friends, press people, etc,

I’m writing to put in my two cents on this recent debacle with Amy’s departure, the removal of work from the Spaces show, and the anger many are feeling at the leadership of the CAC at this time.

To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of the CAC. I’ve lived in New Orleans since 2004 and aside from shows curated by Dan Cameron and Amy Mackie, I’ve rarely put much stock in what went on there. It never felt welcoming to me. As an artist without a lot of money, the fact that there was often a $10 cover charge to get in the building during openings really turned me off and made me feel like the CAC was more about parties for old people with money than for artists or the community. The programming also wasn’t very interesting to me, so I mostly stayed away. In fact, this is part of why I started pipe-dreaming about creating a space like The Front someday, to fill the gap that institutions in this city like the CAC were failing to meet.

When Dan was around things started to feel a little different to me. At least he was curating good shows of actual contemporary art and bringing in important nationally and internationally known artists. So that was nice. And then when Amy came on, that was when I really, finally started to see the CAC in a different light. I was like “Whoa, I don’t have to pay $10 to get into an opening?! Amazing!” More about what I liked about Amy’s tenure at the CAC later. First I want to point out a few specific instances of things that happened at the CAC that I have a problem with.

A few weeks ago I had friends in town visiting. I sent them to the CAC to see the Spaces show. They went, during what are supposed to be your open hours, walked in, took a look at the show downstairs, then walked up to the 2nd floor only to find the doors to the show closed and locked. They asked someone what was going on and were simply told “It’s closed.” Why was it closed? How many other potential viewers missed seeing the show that day? How often does this happen?

A few weeks ago I attended the opening of the Southern Graphics Conference show on the 3rd floor. I was excited because this show brought hundreds of artists from all over the world who were in town for the printmaking conference to the CAC. I thought this would mean the chance for all of these people to see the Spaces show. But, yet again, the Spaces show was closed! Why? That really made me mad.

Recently another friend went to see the Spaces show. It was about a half hour after ya’ll opened. The show was open but none of the videos were on! Seriously? Come on! Get your act together!

And then now we come to find out that our show is going to be closed for 5 days for a movie? Seriously? And no one even told us? Man, this is getting ridiculous. We only even found out about this because Lala overheard a contractor talking about it. How am I supposed to trust you when you close shows willy nilly without informing us? The answer is I DON’T. I don’t trust you.

In addition, there have been a couple instances of the CAC shifting dates around in ways that negatively impact many people: Rachel Brown’s field trip cancellation for example, and then the extension of the Landscapes show. To make matters worse you then lie about the reason for the change in dates. We all know it’s not because of how popular the show was. I assume it’s either because you lost your visual art staff, or because some movie rental called for a last minute change in plans. But, come on, by lying about this? It just makes you look pathetic and weasely. Why the dishonesty? Is it because you’re trying to hide the dysfunction within your institution?

As annoying as all of this is, really my biggest concern of all is Amy’s departure (and the departure of her staff, let’s not forget). What could be so bad at the CAC that Amy Mackie felt so disrespected and under-appreciated that she felt she had to quit so abruptly? I don’t know all of the specifics of what all went down with Amy and the leadership (though of course I’ve heard all the rumors, as most have), but obviously for someone to make such a brash move, things must have been really tough.

I got to know Amy a bit during her short time in New Orleans and I have nothing but respect for her and the job she was doing. She worked hard. She put in long, grueling days for weeks and months at a time to pull her shows together. Just one example of this is how she had one on one studio visits with nearly every single artist in the Spaces and NOLA Now<

I keep hearing how you need money to keep the CAC afloat and that’s why renting the building out for movies and events often takes precedence over arts programming. I’m sorry, but I have no pity for your situation. YOU HAVE PLENTY OF MONEY. I am a member of The Front. We have been running our space for over 3 years with $0 budget! Yet somehow we manage to keep our doors open, put on great shows every month that get great attendance, reviews, and critical acclaim. How is it that we manage to do this with no money, no staff, and in a space that’s the size of the CAC’s bathrooms, yet the CAC has income, donors, corporate sponsors, PAYS NO RENT, and is located on some prime real estate in an amazing building, yet you’re going to make money your excuse?! I’m not buying it. If The Front could have only half of Jay Weigel’s salary we could do so many amazing things! Your problem isn’t money. Your problem is your leadership and the culture within your institution.  

And so all of this leads me to the conclusion that we simply don’t need you. We have our own spaces and they’re functioning just fine. Why would I want to have anything to do with you after all of this? You are failing, while St. Claude is thriving. That’s why I’m in support of removing my work from the Spaces show. I just want to get as far away as I can from your dysfunction and get back to The Front where I can surround myself with artists who are supportive of each other, care about contemporary art, and work so hard to make our space the best it can be. Your ship is sinking, so I don’t want to be on it anymore.

That said, you may have noticed that I haven’t taken my work down yet. The only reason my work is still up is because I’m a member of The Front, and at least for now, we are acting as a united Front. We have been debating back and forth about whether to remove work or not, and have yet to come to a conclusion. Out of respect for my fellow collective members, I am not removing my work yet. That is not to say that I may not at some point, but for the moment at least, the work remains. Please don’t interpret this as any type of gesture of support or ray of sunshine from me. To be clear, I want my work out. I want nothing to do with the CAC anymore unless there are significant changes.

In the end though, I don’t have any faith that anything will change at the CAC. I’m sure you’ll get through this little hiccup of an artist rebellion by spinning things to sound like no big deal, letting the dust settle, then getting back to business as usual. I can imagine an email with something like “Due to the overwhelming success of the Spaces show, some of the artists took their work down!” Jay and Merit will keep getting their cozy paychecks. Everyone will keep their jobs. The board will get back to the business of planning parties, movie rentals, and parking revenue. The CAC will remain mediocre, irrelevant, and barely functional.

It’s a shame, for sure. But it’s been this way for years, and I’m sure it will just continue. Meanwhile, I’ll be where the real action is – in the Bywater, baby! St. Claude forever!

Sic Semper Tyrranis!

Kyle Bravo