Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Long and Winding Road

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Published on November 30, 1995

Flush with valuable Lincoln Road real estate and saddled with major debts, the South Florida Art Center ponders its options, its future, and its purpose..

By Judy Cantor

Published on November 30, 1995

.....If Ellie Schneiderman was considered the art center's omnipresent fairy godmother, then Pat Jones was seen as its wicked stepmother. At least that was how many of the resident artists viewed Jones when she became SFAC executive director in October 1992 and began to shake up the status quo.

Schneiderman had bolted from the post earlier that year. In the seven years since she'd founded the center, she had gained 25 pounds and had developed a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit. Schneiderman now says she was ready "to get back to her life." Gary Feinberg, an artist and the art center's property manager, ran the art center until a new director could be found.

Jones, who grew up in Miami, had served thirteen years as director of the Alliance for the Arts in New York City, a nonprofit service agency affiliated with that city's Department of Cultural Affairs. Jones was chosen to head up SFAC because of her extensive experience with arts organizations and what board president Jan Cheezem calls "an encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary art." Cheezem stresses that it was the artists on the search committee who most strongly supported Jones's candidacy. Jones was brought in on the premise that the SFAC was ripe for change, and that she was the person to impose it.

"The basis for which I was hired was that up to then the organization had focused on developing the [studio] spaces and serving the resident artists," Jones recalls over lunch at a quiet restaurant on lower Ocean Drive, far removed from the clamor of construction crews on Lincoln Road. "And that now with the changing nature of the Road and with a growing organization, they would have to raise outside funds. And if they wanted to raise outside funds, the only way to do that was to really serve the changing nature of South Beach, to serve two other audiences, in terms of programs, exhibitions, and education Athe broader arts community and artists who were not residents of the center."

To accomplish these goals, Jones hired Jenni Person, who had previously worked at the Loft Theater in Tampa, as SFAC program director. Person and artist Roly Chang came up with the idea for Ground Level, an alternative space first located in the 924 building, where Person began organizing poetry slams and other performance events. Meanwhile, Jones sought outside funding and implemented a curated exhibition program that included work by nonresident artists.

At an open SFAC meeting in May 1994, Jones, board members, resident artists, and members of the community met to discuss many of the same issues now on the agenda of the recently formed planning committee. Much of the meeting's transcript contains contentious dialogue: While Person advocates "placement of the organization in the field" through marketing, artist George McClements tersely responds with the comment that artists want to be in their studios selling. Cheezem talks about movie theater negotiations, while ClaySpace director Bonnie Berman cautions against selling the buildings and expresses her suspicions about the city's interests. The only thing all parties seemed to agree on was that they would have to work on better communication.

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