Choices for Art Commission Show Nepotism at Play
Note: this article has been slightly expanded.
If you start seeing a lot of sad and mediocre public art in San Leandro, you know whom you have to blame: the past and current members of the City Council who chose to appoint friends to the newly created Arts Commission instead of people with any sort of knowledge or experience in the Arts.
When the City Council created an Arts Commission to decide on how to beautify San Leandro though art, they had the opportunity to populate it with outstanding artists and arts professionals. Instead, three Councilmembers, Michael Gregory, Ursula Reed and Benny Lee, decided to chose their friends and political supporters, despite their obvious lack of qualifications in comparison to other applicants.
In District 1, Michael Gregory appointed his friend Jeni Engler to the Arts Commission. Jeni is a very nice woman, an elementary school teacher, a great volunteer with Friends of the Library and a great supporter of the theater program in her church. She and her husband have been friends with the Gregories for a long time, they attend the same church and Michael Gregory honored them with a service award in 2013. However, Jeni Engler does not have either an educational nor professional background in either fine or performing arts, and she listed no art involvement beyond supporting musical theater.
The people Michael Gregory did NOT choose included:
– A professional artist/painter and former docent at New York’s Museum of Modern Art with an MA in Art.
– An artist and Alameda County Arts Commissioner with a BA in Studio Art and an MA in Art Administration, who previously worked at the Art Institute of Chicago
– A professional graphic designer with degrees in Photography and Graphic Design
– A lawyer/artist, with a certificate in studio art & printmaking
– A retired graphic designer and artist very involved in the local art scene (ultimately appointed to the Arts Commission by the Mayor)
In District 2, Ursula Reed appointed friend and political supporter Dina Herrera, whom she had previously appointed to the Parks & Recreation commission, despite the fact that Herrera did not file her application to the Commission until after the date when the Council was supposed to announce their nominations. Indeed, Herrera’s application was not included in the packet I received from the City Clerk because I had specified I only wanted those available to Council members before they made their decision. Herrera has been a strong supporter of Reed, endorsing her in multiple races and participating in her political fundraisers. According to Herrera’s application, her qualifications for being in the Commission are: “I am an active community member. I would love to help beautify San Leandro and my own children perform in San Leandro’s Theater Programs”.
In order to appoint Herrera, Reed rejected the timely filed applications of:
– An Arts professor/writer/reviewer/judge/curator/art producer with a BA in Studio Art and an MA in Curatorial Practice.
– A graphic designer with experience producing Latin music shows.
In District 4, Benny Lee appointed friend and political ally Martin Wong, who listed no involvement with the arts in his application beyond being vp or a church chorus. Lee rejected:
– A local artist
– The technical director of the California Symphony Orchestra, who has a BA in Sociology
– A Mexican American community member with a BA in Anthropology and coursework on museum curating
Things were better in the other parts of town.
In District 3, Diana Souza appointed Susan Harlow-Schott, the only person who applied.
In District 5, Pauline Cutter appointed Anna Edwards, an amazing African-American artist. There were other qualified applicants, including a typeface designer and professor at California College of the Arts, a brilliant professional sculptor/artist and a curator and artist coach who worked as Deputy Director of the San Francisco Arts Commission (she was appointed to the Commission by Mayor Cassidy), but I don’t think anyone can doubt Ms. Edwards’ qualifications.
And in District 6, Jim Prola appointed Kathleen Ott-Davis, an art designer with a BA in Fine Arts over two other applicants, a professional singer of Portuguese Fado and Prola’s own wife (who paints).
The City invited people who did not reside in San Leandro, but who are involved in the cultural life of the community, to apply for an at-large appointment to the Arts Commission. There were a couple of extremely qualified applicants, including the Executive Director and curator of a mobile public art gallery with decades of experience in art exhibitions and promotions and a Mexican American professional artist who runs an art promotion company, but neither was chosen by Mayor Cassidy.
One single at-large space remains in the Commission.