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HAA’s Statement vs. Lennon’s Resignation Letter

The Houston Arts Alliance has released an official statement on their sudden change of heart about awarding high-profile commission to Houston Artist Ed Wilson:

Houston Arts Alliance Statement

The review process for the commission of a large-scale work of art for the new lobby to be built at the George R. Brown Convention Center is currently on schedule, with an anticipated installation of the artwork by November 2015.

It is unfortunate that artist Ed Wilson received a premature communication regarding the status of his proposal in the review process.

As for Mr. Mathew [sic] Lennon’s resignation to the position of Director of Civic Art + Design, it is with sadness that we accept his resignation. He has dedicated his life to the arts, and we hope his passion and commitment to it continue to serve our city and its artists. Respected art consultant Sara Kellner will serve as HAA’s Interim Director of Civic Art + Design.

The release goes on to list Kellner’s substantial qualifications for the job, but fails to address any of Lennon’s reasons for leaving, which he detailed in a detailed letter of resignation to Marc Melcher, Chariman of the HAA Board, dated November 22. In the letter, Lennon places the blame for the commission snafu squarely on HAA’s Civic Art Committee:

Dear Mark [sic],

The recent CAC meeting was disingenuous.

Everything being sought had been requested of the CAC [Civic Art Committee] by staff many times over the past years.  Staff has asked for a sub committee to review and amend the ordinance and other policies on a number of occasions.  There was plenty of time to form a subcommittee for GRB [the George R. Brown project] while I negotiated the contract.  The leadership did not facilitate this.  Blaming staff is hypocritical.

CAC was informed of the GRB requirements in August and asked to put forward names for the artist list.  Only Janet Hobby responded.  Had the committee thoroughly read the September minutes they would have seen that the artists list was vetted at committee, had support by the attending members and that Paul Kittleson had been endorsed as a panelist by their Chair.  Not acknowledging that reveals the lack of consistency within the CAC and demonstrates the need for the team’s self- sufficiency.

To undermine a process that has served HAA well, to denigrate local art professionals and belittle local talent- no matter how cleverly masked- is not the job of CAC.  They were not formed to select or reject artists or to decide who or what is ‘Blue Chip’ (see September Minutes). They certainly aren’t there to depreciate the value of staff. Our leadership did nothing to divert that, its silence encouraged it.
No Civic Art Committee changes policies during an active contract. It’s unprofessional.

Ed Wilson, and the other artists, followed the procedures provided. A professional panel with stakeholder representation was formed. Ed was selected unanimously by a blind vote.  Derailing that process is naïve and insults everyone engaged.  Depriving Ed Wilson of his commission is unethical.
The CAD team has successfully delivered permanent and temporary projects.  To treat those successes as insignificant because they’re not perceived as iconic, displays an insular understanding of civic art.  As director I negotiated the first 3 year contract, the 17% fee, the contracts with SWA and GRB.  I did this with the benefits to HAA in mind and fully aware that it’s the clients requirements that drive the projects.

It’s quite evident that the program now needs an Arts Administrator with a submissive nature.  Therefore I am resigning effective immediately.  Please forward any paperwork to my personal Email.

Sincerely,
Matthew Lennon
Independent Curator, Artist, Writer and
Professional Public Art Facilitator

Several times in his letter, Lennon mentions the minutes of the reportedly dramatic September meeting of the CAC about the GRB project where HAA staff presented CAC with a list of seven artists and five selection panelists, and  CAC members, according to Lennon, “denigrate local art professionals and belittle local talent.”

This morning, Glasstire made a request to HAA Communcation Director Marie Jacinto to see a copy of these minutes, which are public records, offering to visit the HAA offices to do so. Jacinto said she would “forward the request on to the CEO and COO, who could pull the records” and she would make them avaliable. So far, there has been no action.

 

UPDATE: Details of the Fall CAC meetings and the HAA’s big do-over here.

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13 Responses

  1. Will Cutting

    A text book soulless HAA response vs. a powerful message backed up by him leaving a place because of its lack of integrity and support for local small businesses (which is basically what artists are).

    For them to have Kellner sitting on deck, just makes it appear more like the powers that be at HAA were looking to get rid of Lennon. He went with class.

  2. Jenni Rebecca Stephenson

    I look forward to reading the minutes.

    I cannot emphasize enough that Matthew’s departure is a huge loss to the Houston art community. He was an incredible advocate for independent artists in a city that desperately needs more advocates for independent artists.

  3. bedmondson

    Sounds like Lennon was not use to and didn’t understand the government bureaucracy he had to deal with and just acted hastily. This is going to look silly for Lennon when Wilson still gets the commission, just with all the signatures needed.

  4. Jacque Acklen

    An advocate for independent artist in The Houston art community is desperately needed. It is disheartening to see government bureaucracy undermining Mr. Lennon who was an advocate for all of the local city artist. It is a disgrace to award a commission to Ed Wilson selected unanimously by a blind vote and then withdraw it. Such an action is unethical to say the least.

    1. Dan Havel

      Michael, have you run into this problem with your program, Sculpture for NOLA? Are you or your selection committee swayed by taste elite? Do you need to avoid politically sensitive work?

  5. Tracey Conwell

    The contract was awarded to Ed Wilson. They subsequently sent him the contract to sign. He signed it. That is not a “premature communication.”

    This is not acceptable conduct.

    This is not the way public entities who are accountable to us, the public, for tax dollars should be allowed to act.

    p.s. they are required under the Public Information Act to give you the minutes in 10 days.

  6. Art Selection has always been political, sexist and based on intimate relations with the particular artist…i.e.. if one person is married to, best friends of, has a vested interest in, earns a percentage of a kickback of said artists work, is bff’s with any elected official or art collector. Although my family and I are all award winning artists going back 200 years, most of the people on the HAA panel are clueless as to who we are, much less our awards. Does it surprise me that Ed Wilson was awarded a contract and disregarded? No. Even after our studio was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, we never received funding, support or anything from the HAA committee and my Grandfather was President of the PPAofA in Houston, and I grew up here. Ed Wilson could always sue as contracts are legal and binding in the state of Tx. Honestly, as an Artist, I notice a lot of these so-called ” Art Committees,” provide little funding to actual artists, much less help to stabilize their income or help artists actually improve their Quality of Life. All the Cream stays floating at the Top, funds stagnate in the red tape, while many artists are left Starving at the Bottom. And those with no Artistic Talent at all are left as judge and jury of the Prestigious Art Committee, while artists like Ed Wilson get shafted.

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