Pacific Art League loses board chair | February 15, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 15, 2008

Pacific Art League loses board chair

Baker resigns after one month of presiding over struggling nonprofit

by Becky Trout

Remaining tensions within the Pacific Art League have led to the resignation of recently elected Board of Directors Chairwoman Mary Anne Baker, although Baker insists her departure was not acrimonious.

"These people are still all my friends," Baker said Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, I've been forced to spend increasingly more time defending or explaining decisions instead of working on League business," Baker wrote in her Feb. 8 resignation letter.

"It was a bigger job and a lot more personal issues than Mary Anne ever dreamed of," departing board member Katie Cooney said.

Baker was elected chairwoman of the board Jan. 16 after all but three previous board members left the board Jan. 9. Five of the nonprofit's six staff members also resigned over the holidays, spurred by the bitterness engendered by plans to sell the organization's historic Ramona Street building, and a campaign to ward off the sale.

On Jan. 16, Baker said she wanted to help the league "continue and prosper. I have a lot of ideas."

Wednesday, Baker said she was sad about her resignation.

"I really thought I was a perfect fit. ... I wasn't involved in that big fight," Baker said. "I had no idea the feeling was still so strong."

Baker said she plans to remain a member of the league and still has a lot of respect for the members of the board.

The building was not an issue in her resignation, Baker said. She authored a resolution, approved unanimously by the board Jan. 30, which said "there will be no further attempt to sell our building."

Walter Smith, the previous vice chair and a leader of the "Vote No" campaign opposing the building's sale, said he will serve as an interim chairman until the board's Feb. 20 meeting.

Smith, and board member Donnasue Jacobi, also a leader of the "Vote No" campaign, downplayed the effect of Baker's resignation.

"This is not a major change," Smith said, adding, the transition between boards is "working out fairly well.

"I think if you came around the building, you'd see there's a certain excitement," Smith said,

An organization encompassing 600 artists "will never be plain and simple. But that's part of its charm," Smith said.

A top priority is to keep the league operating following the recent staff exodus.

The board's executive director Stephanie Demos remains on medical leave, several board members said. A temporary employee and former board member-turned staff contractor Karen Gutfreund are administering the organization, Cooney said.

Jacobi said she and other volunteers are pitching in to learn computer systems and take care of other necessary tasks.

Using volunteer labor, the organization will be able to slim down the size of its paid staff, one of the new board's goals, Smith said.

The board is also working on plans to rehabilitate and possibly expand its building at 668 Ramona St.

Smith said the project, which includes a seismic retrofit and improving the building's accessibility, would cost between $2 and $4 million. The board intends to begin fundraising soon, he said.

To expand its reach into the community, the board is expanding its offering of entry-level art classes, he said.

The gallery will focus on "more modestly priced but very good quality art that comes out of the artists in the community," Smith said.

"One of the major things we're trying to do is have a strong link to the membership," he said.

Members will be informed and are invited to attend board meetings, he said.

The board also plans to revive a newsletter for its members, Smith said.

In the future, the organization might host poetry readings, evening art shows and other events to involve the broader community, Smith said.

But, in general, the rebuilding effort is proceeding well, Smith said.

"We have a lot of people come in and say, 'I'm so thankful you guys saved the art league,'" Jacobi said.

Smith said the new board hopes to remain "homogenous."

"We want to move along as a unified group," he said.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. at 668 Ramona St.

Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at


Posted by Stephanie Demos, a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2008 at 3:45 pm

Dear Ms Trout,

Pacific Art League is a fabulous organization with a rich past and a promising future. Recent months have been challenging, but transition is always thus. Yet for the current Winter Quarter class enrollment has met benchmark targets (400+) and all three galleries are replete with artwork.

First, it is not true that "eight new board members ousted all but three previous board members." Only eight individuals stood for election in January and thus all eight were elected. Former Chair Carol Nast, Vice Chair Natasha Kurtova French, Aruna Gambhir and Sandy Withers resigned on the eve of the election. The five most recent appointees each chose to remove their names from consideration for the election. Linda Adreveno, Katie Cooney, Kit Golson and Rob Partish volunteered to remain for a period of transition. And Karen Gutfreund resigned from the Board to assume the role of Operations Manager. This was a completely unified board, diverse rather than homogenous, professional and generous.

Second, the plan was to develop "the organization's historic Ramona Street building" such that the Art League retained ownership of a safe, accessible first floor housing gallery, studio and office space. The plan was to maintain the historic facade while achieving full accessibility and seismic safety.

Continuing to mischaracterize either of these two points, can only exacerbate past bitterness and does not serve Palo Alto's oldest fine arts organization.

I look forward to returning to the Art League when my medical leave is over to continue the good work of this membership organization. I am, and intend to continue to be, an active member.

Pacific Art League did not need saving -- it needed and needs active commitment from the membership. That commitment will lead to fundraising success, facility preservation and the continued celebration of art.

Stephanie Demos
Executive Director

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