In a massive leadership change, 10 of 14 board members resigned this week at the conflict-torn Pacific Art League in downtown Palo Alto -- following resignations in December of all but one staff member.
The wave of resignations followed months of division about the proposed sale of the league's historic, nearly 80 year old downtown Palo Alto building.
Eight new board members were elected at a Wednesday night meeting to replace 10 who resigned, according Executive Director Stephanie Demos, the sole remaining staff member.
The old board has four members staying on, but all staff members except for herself resigned in December, Demos said.
The roughly 600-member non-profit arts organization was bitterly split last fall by the old board's plan to sell the group's 688 Ramona St. property to Palo Alto developer Jim Baer.
The board argued in favor of selling the hollow-brick structure to Baer for $3.4 million.
The plan called for Baer to seismically retrofit the building, make it wheelchair accessible and turn the top two floors into condominiums. The art group would have bought back about half of the first floor for gallery and teaching space, but many of its activities would have to be relocated out of the downtown area.
Many league members, including incoming board member Donnasue Jacobi, protested the proposal vehemently with a "Vote No" campaign.
The board was forced to drop the plans at its Nov. 29 meeting, but feelings remained high.
Many board members recognized a fundamental disagreement with the membership about what sort of organization the league should be and decided to resign, former Board Chair Carol Nast said.
Despite past rancor, Demos said she is excited to move forward with alternate plans for expanding and rehabilitating the Downtown building.
Jacobi's "Vote No" group is brainstorming ways to fund modernization and upgrading of the old structure.
The first floor was littered with buckets collecting rainwater during recent storms, Demos said.
A main task for the new board is figuring out fundraising for such a massive project, incoming board member Walter Smith said.
The non-profit owns the right to build into an alleyway behind the building, which could lead to an expansion of up to 5,000 square feet, Demos said.
The group currently rents a garage from a family for a secondary exhibition space on Alma Street, a less than ideal set-up, she said.
Smith said ill will within the group should dissipate.
The new board will have a "closer dialog" with members than the last and re-institute the former policy of sending a periodic letter out to members, he said.
Nast said one big difference is that the old board engaged in "very aggressive outreach" to the Palo Alto community, such as in arranging a cooperative exhibit with Gamble Garden but the new board believes in a members-first approach to exhibits.
League members had difficulty relating to the earlier outreach approach and in the future the gallery will feature mainly art by members, Smith agreed.
He noted that the new board had yet to meet and set official policies.
The league's board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the league's building at Ramona Street and Forest Avenue.