Fashion Victim

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

David Sheflin is absolutely the most fashionable man in town.

Sheflin runs his high-end, vintage boutique in central Phoenix like a weekly salon, mingling with discerning customers and influential friends as though he's Diana Vreeland presiding over Vogue.

On the side, Sheflin deals in top-name mid-century furniture. He's also a stylist; Tiffany & Co. recently hired him to match their rare jewels with vintage gowns.

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.

His own style is studied casual. Typically, Sheflin makes his way around the Valley in flip-flops, jeans and tee shirts, hardly a fashionista, at first glance. If he took his sunglasses off indoors -- which he seldom does -- you'd even say he was unassuming.

Until you noticed that the sunglasses are Gucci. Ditto the flip-flops.

If there's an insider party going on at the newest nightclub or the chicest restaurant, Sheflin's on the VIP list.

This is a guy who could easily star on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. In fact, when a local TV station produced a Phoenix version, he did.

Open just a few hours one day a week, Sheflin's Vintage Fashion Inc. is the only place in these parts where you can find mint-condition Halston or Von Furstenberg -- except, perhaps, the Fashion Design Gallery at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Chances are, such a piece would have made its way to the museum via Sheflin, who for two years sat on the board of the Arizona Costume Institute, the nonprofit support group for the museum's fashion design department.

The intersection of the worlds of fashion and art should be the safest place in the world for a gay man -- particularly one with impeccable taste -- but David Sheflin resigned from ACI late last year, claiming the senior citizen set that runs the nonprofit support group discriminated against him. At least two other gay men and an African-American woman have left ACI as well, saying they were "uncomfortable" with the way the ladies-who-lunch treated them.

Clearly, the young folks fell into a generation gap. At 40, Sheflin is hardly a child. But some of the women on the ACI board are nearly double his age, and more eager, Sheflin says, to talk about floral arrangements for their luncheons than cutting-edge fashion shows or ways to attract younger, more diverse members.

It might have been a hint to Sheflin, when he joined the ACI board in 2001, that he was the first gay man on the board in the group's nearly 40-year history.

For their part, the ladies say Sheflin was a troublemaker. The politics aren't much different from those you'd encounter on any nonprofit board -- a tempest in a Manolo Blahnik, perhaps -- but the stakes are as high as the Italian designer's stilettos, because Phoenix is finally on the verge of having a real fashion scene.

In the past year, dozens of young fashion designers have emerged here. Every week, you can find runway shows at local nightclubs and art galleries. Suddenly, girls and guys who used to be nothing more than good-looking scenesters are getting regular (albeit unpaid) work as models. Hair stylists and makeup artists are getting exposure for their weirdest ideas. Passage, a boutique stocked exclusively with locally made clothing, debuted last summer in central Phoenix. A purse-size glossy called LabelHorde showcases local fashion.

And hundreds of style-conscious twenty- and thirtysomethings are eager for more.

That's a crowd that would certainly knock the support hose off the ladies of ACI, who keep their parties invitation-only.

The irony is that, in contrast to its staid support group, the Phoenix Art Museum boasts one of the best fashion design collections in the West. The museum's fashion curator -- who comes straight from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the fashion/art mecca -- is one of the most progressive in the country.

ACI, Sheflin says, is holding the Phoenix Art Museum back -- way back. There are rumors of bad blood between curator Dennita Sewell and certain ACI board members, to the point where some worry Sewell will quit or be fired. (Sewell refused to comment for this story.)

Sheflin is quick to point out that not every member of the institute was resistant to change. But he and others say the ladies who've controlled the group for years wanted nothing to do with them.

"They really resent people showing up that they don't know," Sheflin says. "It's not just if you're a man or you're gay. It could be if you're young, if maybe you're dressing a little alternative, if you're not wearing a St. John Knits suit -- they don't like that."


If you want to mingle in the Valley's edgy fashion scene, you won't likely have any luck at the Phoenix Art Museum. Instead, head to downtown Scottsdale for a SMoCA Night.

On a wintry evening earlier this year, there's not a St. John Knits in the crowd as funky, almost tribal-sounding drum rhythms echo throughout the lobby of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, where a dense crowd of stylish Gen X and Gen Yers sips appletinis, snaps digital photos of each other and chatters loudly over the music.

Dressed in asymmetrical cocktail dresses or tight designer jeans with colorful, pointy stiletto heels, the women are far more glammed up than the men, who wear jeans and button-down shirts over tee shirts or under skinny, vaguely mod suit jackets. This isn't the stereotypical Scottsdale nightclub crowd; if anything, tonight's scene is more representative of the downtown Phoenix First Friday mix, with plenty of artists, photographers, writers, musicians and assorted free-thinkers in attendance.

For a Thursday night, it's a substantial turnout for any event, anywhere in town.

In a small side gallery, where the throbbing, primal beats grow stronger, dozens of people stand and watch the Sour Patch Dance crew wrap up its performance of experimental urban dance. Everyone's focused on the dancers' impressively athletic stunts, and no one seems to find it unusual that this animated team is basically break-dancing in the museum, surrounded by watercolor paintings.

Later, the highlight of the night: a fashion show with clothing made by nine local designers.

A rush of loud, relentlessly pulsating DJ music from another gallery signals that it's time for the show. A couple hundred people cram into the brightly lighted space, where Robert Indiana's famous LOVE paintings color the walls, and a long, narrow platform divides the room. Between the lights and the number of bodies, things are really starting to heat up. A few lucky people sit in chairs lined up along each side of the runway; many more stand at the back of a six-person-deep crowd, craning their necks to see if anything's happening.

Soon, models start sashaying from one side of the room to the far end of the platform, where flash bulbs go off from every direction. Hair teased and lip gloss gleaming, the young women mostly keep blank faces as they march out in a steady parade of outfits. But every so often, a male model struts by with a smirk on his face, looking like a mischievous kid. One after another, a female announcer describes each outfit, and the looks are as varied as the faces in the room: some elegant and romantic, some retro and blatantly sexy, some artsy and futuristic, some downright puzzling. After every few models, a different designer walks out to take credit for his or her work -- waving, smiling, and sometimes hamming it up for the applause.

Between the DJ's booming, upbeat mix, the spectacle of showy clothing and the crush of onlookers dressed like they might've just stepped off the platform themselves, the event marks the undeniable growth of a scene that's really started to jell in the last year.

Across town, approaching midnight, the lights are off at the Phoenix Art Museum.


Giorgio Armani got it all wrong.

The superstar designer's gloomy declaration several years ago -- "fashion is dead" -- couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, fashion is in a constant state of resurrection and reanimation. Designers these days pluck inspirations from the past, present and future, remixing ideas into the latest runway looks the way a world-class DJ samples tracks from obscure vinyl albums to come up with a new sound. How else to explain Tom Ford's successful run at Gucci or Marc Jacobs' impressive tenure at Louis Vuitton?

Fashion thrives on a steady diet of youth. Zac Posen, one of New York's newest design darlings, is only 23.

Diversity, too, is an essential engine of fashion's evolution. Think of Dior's John Galliano, who's taken cues from ancient Egyptians, geisha and homeless people, or Jean-Paul Gaultier, who created haute couture inspired by Hasidic Jews. And in fashion, the notion of homosexuality isn't just tolerated -- it's celebrated. People like the fur-swaddled, larger-than-life Voguescribe Andre Leon Talley or the cheeky photographer David LaChapelle give the design world its flamboyance.

In this booming Western metropolis, where cowboy hats are still considered a fashion statement, David Sheflin was one of the first to bring a cosmopolitan sensibility to the Valley's design community.

Because Sheflin is so well-connected, he's a natural leader within Phoenix's gay hipster scene, bringing subculture luminaries to town whenever he can. Last year, in conjunction with the Phoenix Film Festival, Sheflin arranged for the cult film director John Waters to appear at Vintage Fashion, where middle-aged queens, indie rock boys and teenage girls alike lined up to have their Polaroid taken with Waters and a cartoonish costumed Easter Bunny.

And David Sheflin was the first man -- and almost certainly the first homosexual -- to serve on the board of the Arizona Costume Institute of the Phoenix Art Museum.

A Phoenix native, Sheflin grew up near the museum in the Willo District, and often spent many afternoons wandering through its galleries. He lived in San Francisco during his 20s, and when he moved back to Phoenix in the '90s, he opened Vintage Modern, a mid-century furniture store, across from the museum. (The building was later razed to make way for an Osco.)

Sheflin also decided he wanted to get more actively involved with the museum, and the Arizona Costume Institute in particular.

"I made calls about getting involved with ACI, but never got the courtesy of a return phone call," he recalls.

Then he brought it up with Bruce Kurtz, who was the museum's contemporary curator at that time.

"Bruce said, 'They'll never call you back. They don't want a man down there, and they certainly don't want a gay man,'" says Sheflin. Kurtz wasn't just out of the closet; he was also one of the founders of the Phoenix chapter of ACT Up. (He died last spring.)

It was nearly a decade later that Sheflin finally got involved with the museum's fashion design department. In 2000, Dennita Sewell was the new curator of fashion design at the Phoenix Art Museum and a recent transplant from New York City, where she worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As Sheflin recalls it, Sewell crossed the street from her office and walked into Vintage Modern Gallery. "She introduced herself and said she was working on the 'Way Haute West' show, and I told her I had this Diane Von Furstenberg dress that would be perfect for it," he says.

Their collaboration went so well that in 2001, Sheflin not only helped Sewell curate the next exhibition, "Sophisticated Moderns," but helped arrange its funding as well. The show focused on modern fashion and furniture design from the post-World War II era, pairing clothing by Claire McCardell with furniture by Edward Wormley.

People like Brent Fuller, a local architect, who hadn't been involved with the museum until then, took notice of the exhibition.

"It brought tons of architecture and design people into the building who had never been there before, and I still get comments -- 'Is there gonna be another show like that?' -- from the architecture community here," Fuller says. Sewell's embrace of diversity -- and how it was reflected in her fashion exhibitions -- was what put Fuller "on the bandwagon" to join the museum and ACI.

Sheflin agrees that "Sophisticated Moderns" gave the museum lots of great exposure. But he also remembers that the opening reception, which attracted more than 200 people, annoyed some Arizona Costume Institute members.

"They were so upset because all these people they didn't know came, and one of them said, 'We don't want them eating our food.'" Before that, Sheflin says, the openings usually drew only a couple dozen people.

Around that time, Sheflin says, Sewell lobbied for him to be included on the ACI board. "As far as I know, I was the first man to be on the board," he says. "They asked me to do PR." He publicized and designed invitations for events, and lent or donated items to the fashion design collection.

For the rest of 2001 and into 2002, Sheflin says his work with ACI proceeded without incident, but in June 2002, around the opening of the major exhibition "Garden of Eden," Sheflin noticed his relationship was starting to fall apart with certain members of the ACI leadership.

Sewell asked Sheflin to work with fellow ACI member Ardie Evans on "Eden Rocks," a fund raiser, so he used his connections to bring Holly Woodlawn -- one of Andy Warhol's Superstars made famous in Lou Reed's song "Walk on the Wild Side" -- to perform with a rock band at the event.

The turnout was phenomenal. But the presence of Woodlawn, a transsexual, raised some eyebrows among ACI's more conservative members. "I don't think these ladies knew who she was. When she showed up, these people's faces cracked," Sheflin says.

Sheflin claims that by using his personal contacts, he was able to get 90 percent of the expenses comped for "Eden Rocks." Since Evans was out of town when Sheflin was working on the planning, he says she agreed to oversee the cleanup.

"But when I went to leave that night, she shot me the look of death," he says.

Evans declines to comment specifically on her experiences with Sheflin. "The arts -- period -- are very welcoming to all people," she says.

Not even two months after "Eden Rocks," the "Mariano Fortuny" exhibition, a display of goddess-like gowns by the famous designer, opened quietly. A year ago in March, "Trompe l'Oeil Style," a witty collection of clothing that uses an artistic device to "fool the eye" into seeing details like pockets or buttons, debuted to a fairly diverse crowd.

Then in June, Sewell was making final preparations for "Rudi Gernreich, Peggy Moffitt and William Claxton," an exhibition featuring groundbreaking clothing from the late designer and photographs of his iconic muse. After New York fashion designers had just offered myriad versions of the mod look for fall 2003, the show couldn't have been timelier. Nor could it have been a better excuse to throw a party.

Nevertheless, says Sheflin, "ACI did not want to do anything for the Gernreich show, because these women usually leave for the summer."

With the financial help of several friends (some of whom, like Kelly Ellman and Marsha Till, were also ACI members; neither woman returned calls from New Times), Sheflin managed to pull off an opening reception without any formal help from ACI, bringing in Peggy Moffitt and William Claxton from Los Angeles to appear that night. Sheflin says 400 or 500 people came.

"If you had been there at the opening, you would've seen a complete mixture of people. There were heavy-duty people there who are movers and shakers in the city. There were transsexuals, there were punk rockers, there were young people, there were old people, there were minorities, and there were people from L.A. and Tucson," he says.

Women's Wear Daily even did a write-up on the party, after Moffitt announced that she was about to collaborate with a major fashion designer to reproduce Gernreich's designs. (Later in the month, the designer was revealed to be Rei Kawakubo from Comme des Garons.)

It was the first time in memory that a Phoenix dateline made as much of a splash as anything out of Paris or New York.

Countless guests told Sheflin how great the party was. But he says some of the ACI ladies, including incoming president Ginny Springall, spent the evening looking really unhappy. "It was like a line had been drawn and it was war," Sheflin says.

While the Gernreich show certainly lent itself to a glamorous party, the "Seven" show was even edgier, with creations from designers who sell their work at the revolutionary New York boutique of the same name. Sewell even had the four members of the avant-garde As Four design collective (who recently made news in a Voguephoto spread as Björk's designers-of-choice) fly into Phoenix to install their imaginative pieces themselves.

"That's cutting edge for FIT [the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York], that's cutting edge for the Met. And As Four, in New York, is a big deal. But it's such an amazing thing for Phoenix," says 25-year-old Ryan McNamara, an ASU grad and visual artist who worked as Sewell's assistant in the fashion design department from 2000 to 2001. He now lives in New York City.

But the exhibition itself was not the focus of another see-and-be-seen soiree along the lines of the Gernreich bash. "They had 23 people there total at this opening, and they thought it was a success. I thought it was a complete and utter failure," says Sheflin.

Ardie Evans says the debate over the opening receptions is easy to explain. "The support organizations have a membership that supports [the openings], versus public openings," she says. "So to think that it's closed, it's not. But normally, privilege of membership does drive any opening."


The Arizona Costume Institute stood to gain a lot of new members thanks to Sewell and Sheflin's efforts, which brought a noticeably diverse, younger crowd into the museum, says Blair Jones, a former ACI member. Although Jones says he met some nice people in ACI, he adds that the mostly older, mostly white group of women wasn't very welcoming to the new faces.

"They were not real social with the younger group that David was bringing in and Dennita was bringing in -- at all," says Jones.

Twenty-six-year-old Mikisha Ruffin, who's African American, says she got involved with ACI because of her interest in fashion and art, and because she had just moved to the Valley after graduating from college.

"I expected to be embraced with open arms, considering that we all have this mutual love, this passion. But I always felt like I was on the outside of it, so it probably had a lot to do with my age and race," says Ruffin. "All the women in the organization seemed to be really well-connected and have had a lot of success here in the city, and I couldn't even find a job."

Sewell, an acquaintance of Ruffin's father, had encouraged Ruffin to join ACI. "Lucky me to know her," Ruffin says. "She wants gay, straight, young, old, money, no money -- she wants anyone who has a love for art or fashion to be involved. It was really stressful for her for those dynamics not to converge."

While Ruffin insists that ACI is a good organization with a lot of educational opportunities, she let her membership expire, frustrated that the group didn't try to reach out to minorities or young people. "They haven't really been forced to be inclusive," she says. Ruffin recently moved to New York City, determined to work in the fashion industry.

Ryan McNamara, who was known in the local art scene for running the now-legendary (and defunct) Barlow and Straker Gallery, agrees that ACI could do more for recruitment. He remembers the "Gold Fever" opening reception.

"You know, it was fashion. It was really fun -- there were young people, there were even teenagers there who were dressed up. But I just got the feeling from some of the members of ACI that they really didn't want new members," he says.

Instead, McNamara adds, "They wanted to keep it like a closed, members-only kind of meeting of society ladies," which, he explains, created a huge rift with Sheflin.

Sheflin wanted the events to be open to the public -- like SMoCA Nights -- while some ACI board members wanted to keep the openings private, as a perk for the members.

"But then how do new people find out about it?" McNamara asks. "It's a graying group. It's not like there's a new generation putting new blood into it. And so, if you keep [the receptions] closed, well, it's just going to die off."


There's a light drizzle and a blustering wind on a Thursday night in January, when visitors to the Arizona Costume Institute fund-raising dinner at Scottsdale's Gainey Golf Club drive past rows and rows of new Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs in the full -- and members-only -- parking lot. Turns out that parking for non-members is farther down the hill and off to the side, making it a chilly hike back up to the main entrance.

Inside the resort's clubhouse, nearly a hundred people are heading to their seats, wineglasses in hand, in the lavishly decorated dining room. The vast majority of attendees are elderly, and nearly all are white. Well-coifed seventysomethings with silver hair (or expensive-looking dye jobs) wear flowery designer dresses or tweedy pantsuits, accessorized by jeweled brooches and distinguished-looking husbands. A number of elegant guests in their 50s look positively sexy in comparison, and the small handful of mostly female visitors in their 20s and 30s stick out like children at the opera.

Everyone is here for a lecture by Teri Agins, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal who writes about fashion and retail. As dinner wraps up, Agins, an African American in her early 50s, takes the podium with a warm grin. She talks about her book The End of Fashion, occasionally laughing at herself as she fiddles with the slide projector remote control.

As Agins drops name after famous name -- and after years of reporting on the fashion industry, she's on a first-name basis with the most powerful people in fashion -- the crowd is attentive, murmuring appreciatively at mentions of legends such as Coco Chanel or Audrey Hepburn.

But when her discussion takes a turn toward contemporary streetwear's newer, hip-hop-oriented labels such as J. Lo and Sean John, it's clear from the blank expressions around the room that she's going over a lot of heads. Seated at a large, round table at the front of the room, a grandmotherly lady with white hair leans over to whisper to her balding husband, who shakes his head in befuddlement at the unfamiliar names.

At the end of the evening, Agins mingles with a half-dozen excited women, signing copies of her book and talking about her career as guests bundle up to head back to their cars.

A tall, slender woman in her 30s (who, with her pixieish bangs and geometric print wrap dress, looks a decade younger) says goodbye to a friend.

"I'm so glad I ran into you," she says. "There are so many old people here!"


On September 18, 2003, David Sheflin sent a letter to Jim Ballinger, director of the Phoenix Art Museum, announcing his resignation from the Arizona Costume Institute.

"I can no longer, in good conscience, be associated with this group of women: Ardie Evans, Ginny Springall, Bets Manera, or Maggi Winius," he wrote. "In my opinion, this group of women have continuously embarrassed the Fashion Design Curator, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the City of Phoenix. I have found the powers that be in the ACI to be self-centered and mean-spirited."

The letter goes on to note that in spite of his numerous conversations with Ballinger about problems plaguing ACI, Sheflin saw no progress in correcting them.

(New Times reached all of the women mentioned in the letter, except Winius, who did not return calls.)

Sheflin's resignation followed a long-running spat with those women about a new ACI logo, membership brochure and directory, which he was designing at the request of the current president, Marsha Till. He says Ginny Springall, the incoming president, told him that she didn't want him working on the directory anymore. Later, he says, she changed her mind and demanded the artwork.

But Sheflin was already offended. About serving another year as ACI's public relations director (a volunteer position), Sheflin says that Springall didn't return his calls. "Curiously, now there is no PR director," he says.

Sheflin also says that Ardie Evans and Maggi Winius had told him that even though he and his partner paid for their ACI memberships with one check, their names must still be listed separately in the directory -- unlike heterosexual couples.

"To me, that was discrimination," Sheflin says.

After he finally e-mailed Springall to say that he was no longer willing to design the directory, Sheflin was the unintended recipient of a reply e-mail from Bets Manera to Springall that was about him.

"Hurrah! You finally have a definitive answer from him!" it reads. "We don't need his art work, we can get just as good from someone else. Now you shouldn't have to worry about him any more!"

Interpreting the e-mail as proof of discrimination, Sheflin resigned the next day.

Manera, a Professor Emeritus of Secondary Education at ASU, says that Sheflin misunderstood her response.

"In effect, he was saying that he would not do the brochure, which he had committed to doing over a year prior. And my response, which I intended to go to the president, was, 'Whoopee, hooray . . . after a year and a half we're going to be able to get the brochure done,'" she says. "So we could move on."

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.

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."

Even though he's now officially out of the loop, Sheflin is happy to see ACI be more inclusive. "That's all I've been asking for," he says. And who knows -- he says he may even consider working with the organization again.

Sheflin suspects the timing of ACI's new friendliness to the public has something to do with the group's knowledge that he was discussing the diversity issues with New Times. (In fact, New Times first raised the issue with the publicity department at Phoenix Art Museum in January. Cathy Arnold, the museum's public information officer, immediately rescinded permission for New Timesto shadow Dennita Sewell as she prepared the motorcycle exhibition.)

"Something has happened down there," Sheflin says of the museum and the Arizona Costume Institute.

"We'd been talking about these problems for two years. Nothing changed before, but now, all of a sudden, it has. Well, better late than never. I'm just hoping they can maintain this momentum, because if they can, then anything's possible."

E-mail michele.laudig@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8497.

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