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Arts, struggles continue at Pacific Art League

Original post made on Apr 10, 2008

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Terenia Offenbacker poised over her four collages arrayed on a long table, adding dark streaks to a cutout "13" on one of the sheets, a paint-soaked brush in each hand.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, April 10, 2008, 12:08 PM

Comments (16)

Posted by artist, a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2008 at 5:57 pm

The politics at the League make it impossible to have a stress-free creative climate. That's why I quit and won't return.
It's very sad...the place is dominated by a self-absorbed and narrow-minded clique. Perhaps the negativity at PAL gets the creative juices going for some...but not for me. Who needs it?

Posted by Walter E. Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Settle questions by wrestling in a vat of Jello and whipped cream. That is the artistic way.

Posted by Stephanie Demos, a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2008 at 3:03 pm

Just to set the record straight...

I am not trying to save my job; I am trying to do my job. I spoke out because I want the new board to do a better job of governing the Art League and of returning the sense of collegiality that first made me eager to accept the positon of President/Executive Director in May 2006. I'm going on record, because as this 501(c)(3)'s chief executive officer, I, along with the board, am responsible for the business and operations of the organization. This includes responsible communication, accountability, compliance, etc.

My medical leave began in early January and extended through March 31 Notice of each leave and extention was provided to the appropriate board contact - former board member Linda Adreveno, then chair of the administrative committee, and subsequently Walter Smith, current chair. Walter was on vacation the week before my return and so I met with Board Vice Chair Patricia Targ and member Bill Bruner to discuss logistics. Both made arrangements to be present at the Art League when I returned on Tuesday, April 1st. I also met with board member Mary Anne Baker on the Sunday preceding my return.

I most certainly did not say, "Miscommunication, and the absence of Smith, who had been traveling, had left those currently at the league unaware of [my] return."

Walter is quoted as saying, "We did not have adequate time to prepare for her return. That could have been handled better." It certainly could have been handled better by those who recreated the same level of hostility again on the 1st and the 2nd.

I was not included in the notice of the special board meeting of Sunday, April 6, but came for the first part of the session which was to be a general discussion about the organization. I was asked to leave by the attorney present and stayed only long enough to hear such suggestions as a vote to override the bylaws provision for 48-hour notice retroactively and a complete restructuring of the position of President/Executive Director despite its clear delineation in the bylaws.

"We wanted to have the meeting on the weekend so we would have something to report on Monday," Smith said. "It was not a secret meeting." This is akin to Bill Clinton defining "is." The meeting was secret only in the sense that selected board members were the only ones notified and no announcement was made to the membership or anyone else. There was no report on Monday or any day since. There was however, another meeting scheduled for two days later - again without public notice.

Class enrollment held steady in the Winter Quarter which ended in March, with 604 registrations. Credit for this must go to the former staff, who worked tirelessly despite the turmoil of the end of last year. To my knowledge as of the first week of the Spring, there were significant challenges to matching this numbers.

I hope anyone considering taking one of our excellent classes or workshops will consider the first part of Becky Trout's article. The comments of Rosine Ferber and Terenia Offenbacker characterize the heart of Pacific Art League, the turbulence is inadequate to the desire and determination to create. What matters at the Art League is art. That's what this 87-year old Palo Alto institution is all about. It's not the building. It's not the board or the staff. It's art that is at the heart of what matters -- the creation of art, the appreciation of art and the nurturing of artistic endeavors.

Come to the Art League. Take a class or a attend a workshop. Stop by the galleries. It's still about the art.

Stephanie Demos
President/Executive Director
Pacific Art League

Posted by Stephanie Demos, a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2008 at 1:49 am

Please excuse my typo ... Winter registration was 406, not 604.

Stephanie Demos
President/Executive Director
Pacific Art League

Posted by Fed-up, a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2008 at 6:44 am

I agree totally with "artist" who made the first comment about this article who stated the situation at Pacific Art League accurately:

"The politics at the League make it impossible to have a stress-free creative climate. That's why I quit and won't return.

It's very sad...the place is dominated by a self-absorbed and narrow-minded clique. Perhaps the negativity at PAL gets the creative juices going for some...but not for me. Who needs it?

Posted by artist, a resident of another community, on Apr 10, 2008 at 5:57 pm"

The "self-absorbed and narrow-minded clique" who have taken over have already driven away dedicated volunteers, students and many members.

Sadly, if this "clique" remains in power, the downward spiral of Pacific Art League will continue.

Posted by Art Lover, a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2008 at 8:50 am

It seems as if the new Board is guilty of exactly what it accused the old Board of doing or not-doing---keeping things from the members, holding secret Board meetings, not releasing minutes of any Board meetings at all since they took over, not releasing current financial information (where is the tax return for August 2006 to July 2007 nevermind up-to-date financial info since they took over), etc. Is this due to the aforementioned "clique" and if so, why isn't the rest of the Board doing anything about it?

Posted by Concerned Member, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2008 at 11:15 am

This "clique" has driven away any volunteer who disagrees with them.
I've witnessed name-calling and screaming at volunteers.
And through their own egregious behavior, these particular board members have isolated themselves from the assistance of previous staff members who hold the knowledge of PAL operations. What a waste!

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 15, 2008 at 12:57 pm

Wow, who are these people? This is a quite a show.

Posted by Hannae Mae Parks, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Please let's not throw out the baby with the bath water or our only hope really will be a green jello wrestling match.

The new board is not all a bunch of stinkers. William Bruner, Mary Anne Baker and Patricia Targ seem sane and well-intended. As for the others, the less said the better.

If you want to hold the PAL board accountable, show up. Their regular (non-secret) meetings are on the second Wednesday of every month from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. If you care about PAL and want to put this down hill slide to a stop, come to board meeting and let yourself be heard. Then again if you don't give a fig about PAL but love good theater, you can't beat the price of admission. It's free.

PAL's a great place. I've taken several classes through the years. Of oourse this melodrama is much more entertaining.

Hannae Mae Parks

Posted by In response to Hannae Mae Parks, a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2008 at 6:07 pm

I totally agree with your statement: "The new board is not all a bunch of stinkers. William Bruner, Mary Anne Baker and Patricia Targ seem sane and well-intended. As for the others, the less said the better."

However, as the Board does not allow visitors to speak at board meetings, it's not as easy as you seem to think it is to "come to a board meeting and let yourself be heard."

Note: There's a board meeting this Wednesday night, tomorrow, April 16. It would be great if enough members took an interest to attend and demand to be heard.

PS: It's not entertaining to see Pacific Art League crumble--it's sad.

Posted by Disappointed Member, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2008 at 9:15 am

As per some of the comments, perhaps Becky Trout should be interviewing the hoardes of members who have left Pacific Art League to present a truer picture of what really has been going on.

Stephanie wanted to move the artists to a warehouse. At the informational meeting held at Pacific Art League last November, when asked, she said she had applied for seven grants and didn't get any of them, and the board wants to bring her back as a grant writer? From my recollection of the November 28 meeting at Lucie Stern Community Center, a member from the audience brought up a fact that Pacific Art League under Stephanie's direction spent something like $107,000 to fundraise $22,000 as evidenced by the same tax return that Becky Trout referred to in her article. And, the new board wants her to do fundraising? And, they want to pay her $80,000 a year to not be able to get grants and to spend more money fundraising than is brought in? If Walter Smith thinks Pacific Art League is going to be able to successfully fundraise with this history, he's dreaming.

Deb Killeen didn't care about Pacific Art League when its wonderful building was about to be sold out from under the members. Since Deb Killeen came back, I understand that Pacific Art League had to hire Front Desk staff to open at 9 am because Deb Killeen won't come to work until 10 am and won't come in on days that she's needed if those happen to fall on one of her four days off per week.

Bringing back staff from former times for the sake of expediency because the board has allowed the "clique" to chase off all the volunteers leaves a bad taste to long-time members and questions the wisdom of the new board.

Due to the hostile atmosphere from certain board members and staff, there is no sense of "community" or "family" at Pacific Art League if you aren't one of the "clique".

Perhaps Becky Trout should do another article after talking to members who have been run off or have left Pacific Art League to hear the real truth rather than the sugar-coated one that is falsely being presented to the public by the "clique" and those on the board who are part of the "clique" or support the "clique."

Posted by Joy Chase Bruner, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 16, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Twenty years and onwards, my husband, Bill Bruner, and I have been active in the Pacific Art League. We met through a community site exhibit of his work and went on to produce five shows in the Norton Gallery with his art and my public relations. We loved the funky, historic building and we found it romantic. Bill has shown at almost every Main Gallery show continuously since and I have shown at a few.

Sometime more recently, five to six years at the most, another group of people drifted in. In fact, we have seen several groups come and go but this group seems to have found a day-sit place of refuge in the building, which is owned by the non-profit League free and clear.

Both this fairly new group and we, neither paying much attention, suddenly realized that the building we both cared about was possibly to be sold and a bequest of a couple of million dollars was half used. This called for crises intervention. A new board was elected.

However, since January, I would be willing to wager that the behaviors at the Pacific Art League involving harsh voices, accusatory speech, comments about who should be allowed in the building, locked doors, secret meetings, non-compliance and incompetence of some employees, obstructionist behavior against the craftspeople, conflicts of interest, open hostility and the creation of a toxic environment has been far more damaging to the PAL than its flaming emails.

This state of affairs has daily brought frustration and sadness into our lives. A beloved dream has turned into a crazy nightmare. Acrimony, power ploys and alleged illegalities are killing any hopes for normalcy in spite of expensive attorneys and board consultants being called in to save us. The option to use an already in place Executive Director is being looked at askance while the League is operating under stone-age conditions with arguments over passwords and refusal or misuse of databases and software.

The Board of Directors needs to have regular meetings not caucuses without taking action to correct these problems. Meetings should be properly announced with an agenda and there should be a limited time set for hearing the members. The Pacific Art League is dear to many hearts, why should all this good energy be wasted by a self-serving few who want to limit everyone but themselves?

Posted by Clear-minded Member, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 16, 2008 at 2:18 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Scott G., a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Be careful, "Disappointed Member, a resident of another community."

Hiding behind a cloak of anonominity does not absolve one from responsible for defamation. Check your facts. You are libeling Stephanie and maybe even Deb. Slippery slope.

Posted by Disappointed Member, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2008 at 4:33 pm

So, what exactly wasn't true about what was in posting? If I misunderstood what I heard and the information I had received is wrong, I would certainly like to learn the truth. If something contrary to what was posted can be verified, I would then be glad to post a retraction. However, I don't think you'll be able to show that anything that was posted was not in fact the truth. But, I'll be waiting to hear what facts you have to present to dispute the facts in the posting.

Posted by Pisscasso, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2008 at 5:56 pm

well for one, Deb Killeen was the first one who was alerting everyone to the building being sold, and when she started to comment on it, she was pushed out

she also then brought it to the attention of those who are now the new board

so hardly fair to say she did nothing about it - she did as much as could be expected

as for her hours and days, well if she was asked back and already started another life, those were her hours and days available, nothing wrong with that

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