The statement reads in part, “Fresh Arts believes in the artists of Houston, and that is why we are here…. It is disheartening that Ms. Stephenson would make such a baseless attack on an organization that she professes to love… Thankfully, our dedicated volunteers and staff have refused to let this lawsuit undermine the important work we provide, and they have not allowed Ms. Stephenson’s departure to distract them from their commitment to the artists that we serve.” The statement goes on to say that Fresh Arts will be “filing appropriate papers to set the record straight.”
Stephenson’s suit claims defamation, breach of contract, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and calls her departure from the organization in October 2015 a “scheme” concocted by the organization and its board president, Harry McMahan, who is also a named defendant. The suit was filed days prior to the Fresh Arts annual fundraiser, and comes on the heels of articles published last fall by the Houston Press, which speculated that she was asked to step down because she had given a radio interview complaining about how larger arts organizations in Houston receive more funding than smaller arts organizations.
Update 6:02 pm: Fresh Arts staffers have confirmed receiving calls from Stephenson supporters “screaming and calling us liars.” One caller reportedly said “you’re dead to me.”