After 13 years at Scottsdale Public Art(SPA), Associate Director Margaret Bruning will be leaving her position and taking a gig as Director of Civic Art for Los Angeles County Arts Commission in November.
She was also a staple at local art openings and workshops and was known for her dedication to bringing local artists into the public art realm.
Bruning's exit comes at a contentious time for SPA, which is currently working through a restructuring Master Plan and called upon Scottsdale City Council last week to intervene on conflicts between the Scottsdale Cultural Council's leadership and a few of the public art staff members.
Questioning of budget and management practices of Scottsdale Cultural Council, which oversees SPA, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Scottsdale Center for Performing Art, has grown louder during the last year.
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The public art program's budget has decreased under the direction of Cultural Council CEO Bill Banchs; in June, SPA hastily withdrew a motion from a City Council meeting to discuss the possible separation from the Cultural Council; and in September, SPA Director Valerie Valdala Homer sought protection under a whistle blower policy (which protects her from retaliatory action) after being issued a gag order by the Cultural Council.
Last week, staff and local arts community activists warned Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane and council members that if budget and personnel concerns weren't addressed, the program as a whole would be n danger.
"My hope that program will continue to thrive," says Bruning, who also notes that she'll be requesting an exit interview with SPA administrators that will include recommendations for the future of the program. "What's happened in the last couple of weeks has inspired me. There have been so many staff members, artists, and art patrons who have stepped up and have been willing to speak out in support Scottsdale's art legacy."
Bruning says her exit's a "mixed bag." She nabbed one of the few public art director jobs left in the country, and she'll now have the opportunity to lead her own program in Los Angeles County (with a bigger budget). But she'll have to leave the local art scene that she's been a big part of for more than 20 years.
During her last month, she says she'll continue her work with the Master Plan, which, under the recommendations of consultant Jerry Allen, will lay out a future course for the program aand continue public interaction with projects like A Place Odyssey, a national, public place for public art discussion.
While it's unclear whether SPA will be able to continue her position under a tight budget, members of the staff and art community note the impact she and Homer have had on Scottsdale and the success of a 25-year-old program many credit to their close collaboration.
"Phoenix has been my home for 20 years," says Bruning. "I've enjoyed watching the art scene blossom with public pieces with artists like Melissa Martinez, who just finished installing her work in the Scottsdale Belle Tower. And I've been lucky enough to work with local artists like Sarah Hurwitz who's now showing at the Civic Center Library ... I'm proud to be a part of all of that."