Fashion Victim

A dressing down of the geriatric crowd at the Phoenix Art Museum

Manera also says she was sorry that Sheflin chose to resign, and that although "he was a very difficult person to communicate with," she felt they were working toward the same goal of supporting the fashion design department. His sexuality did not bother her, she says.

"I had heard by the grapevine that he said I was homophobic and that I was responding because I didn't approve of his lifestyle. I didn't even know that he had a different lifestyle until all of this came up, and it didn't make any difference to me," Manera says.

She didn't bother defending herself, she says, because she didn't think Sheflin would believe her anyway.

David Sheflin
Jeff Newton
David Sheflin
William Claxton and Peggy Moffitt made news in 
Women's Wear Daily with their appearance at 
PAM.
David Sheflin
William Claxton and Peggy Moffitt made news in Women's Wear Daily with their appearance at PAM.

Museum director Jim Ballinger responded to Sheflin's resignation letter privately, in a letter to Sheflin dated September 22, 2003, informing Sheflin that his letter was "one of the most vicious I have received during my tenure as director."

In a recent interview, Ballinger tells New Times that the problem over Sheflin not completing the ACI directory is the only problem he's aware of. (Sheflin remains on the Phoenix Art Museum's membership committee.) About Sheflin's resignation, Ballinger says, "I know that for the years David was involved with the Costume Institute, they were very happy to have him on board. He felt snubbed -- that's his feeling, I can't answer for him."

Ballinger says that Sheflin could not have been discriminated against because he was welcomed into the group as a board member. "Then they had, as near as I can tell, one issue that I'm aware of from a structural point of view: the brochure. And frankly, both sides have different stories. The truth is somewhere in the middle, I'm sure."

As for the issue of the exclusive opening receptions, Ballinger says such events for every exhibition at the museum are handled on a case-by-case basis, depending on the popularity of the show and the support groups involved.

Barbara Kammerzell, a former ACI president who was nominated to take the helm again in June, says she hopes to strengthen the organization by bringing in new people.

"I certainly feel like the gay community here in Phoenix is a very strong community, and I would hate to see it not be active in ACI," she says.

About Sheflin, Kammerzell says, "I know he had dropped out this year because of his personality conflicts with some of the people, and I sort of feel like it was a shame."

Sheflin says this is more than typical politics. And he's not upset with Dennita Sewell, Jim Ballinger or even the museum as a whole. He's got a problem with "a small group of women who I believe are dictating policy and running the show down there."

"Come on," Sheflin adds. "We're supposed to be celebrating fashion and fashion designers, and the majority of them are gay men. I mean, where would fashion be without gay men?"

For a long time, David Sheflin pushed for change from inside Phoenix Art Museum and the Arizona Costume Institute. But what may have finally closed the generation gap was his resignation from ACI -- and his decision to talk to New Times about it.

Just this past week, on Friday, April 23, the "Motorcycle Jacket" exhibition debuted in the Phoenix Art Museum's Fashion Design Gallery to a crowd of at least 300 people -- including Sheflin. Accustomed to getting automatic invitations to such events, he says he had to request one from Dennita Sewell, but in any case, Sheflin was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

"The crowd was the kind of people I've been hoping to attract for the past few years," he says, describing a scene that featured a mix of young and old, many first-time visitors to the museum -- including scores of bikers, who prominently parked their motorcycles outside.

"I was actually really proud of the museum to attract these people and to put the show on," he says.

New Times didn't receive an invitation to the event, either. Luckily, the show opened to the public the following day. Filling the gallery and even spilling into the downstairs atrium, where metallic leather and flame-painted glam rock interpretations of the motorcycle jacket are paired with a fiery orange Pan Head chopper, the show vividly illustrates the evolution of an iconic design -- from its origins as a part of a World War II flight uniform to a symbol of rock 'n' roll rebellion to an endless source of inspiration for high fashion designers from Anna Sui to Karl Lagerfeld.

It's the kind of appealing subject matter that Sheflin says will attract a larger audience for the museum. "I give it an A plus," he says. "In my opinion, this will be [curator Sewell's] most successful show to date."

Also noticeably absent from the reception, Sheflin adds, were all but one of the Arizona Costume Institute board members who had clashed with the younger man. Instead, Sheflin bumped into some of the incoming board members for next year, who he says were refreshingly friendly.

"They said they knew there were problems, and they were intent on fixing them," Sheflin says. "I think they should contact people in the community who were disenfranchised and try to get them back."

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