Scottsdale Cultural Council President Discusses Restructure, Says He's Not Looking to Eliminate Positions

Are big changes coming to Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and Scottsdale Public Art?
Are big changes coming to Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and Scottsdale Public Art?
Gabriella Jaffee

Scottsdale Cultural Council president and CEO Neale Perl has announced plans to restructure how closely the Council works with the organizations it oversees -- literally by relocating senior staffers from Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and Scottsdale Public Art to work at the Council's soon-to-be-renovated administrative offices.

"We'll have an opportunity to have the whole senior staff be in the same area together instead of different buildings," says Perl, who was hired as president in August 2014. "We're not looking to eliminate any positions."

He adds that the aim is to improve communication between departments and encourage synergy. The building's landlord will foot the bill for the office renovations, as the Council signs on for another 10-year lease of the space.

The announcement follows rumors that Perl plans to fire the directors of Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, SMoCA, and Scottsdale Public Art amid the restructuring.

"I didn't think you could do worse than Bill Banchs, but apparently you can," says gallery owner Lisa Sette, referencing the notorious former Council president who resigned in August 2013. Regarding the rumored plans to fire the directors, she says, "this is an idea with no basis in professionalism or concern for the arts community in my opinion."

See also: State of the Arts: Phoenix's Arts Community Is at a Make-or-Break Moment. It's Time to Grow Up

A source familiar with the situation who asked to be anonymous says Perl's restructuring plan would result in the elimination of director and assistant director positions at the organizations the Council oversees. Perl wants to consolidate and centralize power, sources say, so that he and recently hired chief of operations and finance Mallard Owen (a longtime associate of Perl's, as noted in the press release announcing his hiring in February) can cut costs and have more control over the three entities.

Perl says no such plot is afoot. He calls it a "strange rumor."

But some say this physical restructuring is a ruse that paves the way for the rumored firings.

If that's the case, Scottsdale Public Art director Donna Isaac, SMoCA director Tim Rodgers, and Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts director Cory Baker could be let go this summer, along with associate and assistant directors Sara Cochran of SMoCA and Ally R. Haynes-Hamblen of Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. It's not clear how each organization would function without these leaders, and some have suggested that SMoCA could lose its museum accreditation if these job eliminations move forward.

Scottsdale Cultural Council board member Andrew Chippendall, Council board of trustees president Ellen Andres-Schneider, and Scottsdale Vice Mayor Laura Milhaven did not respond to requests for comment. Sources say that the Council has instructed board members apart from Andres-Schneider not to discuss the matter.

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City of Scottsdale Councilman David N. Smith says via e-mail that he was not aware of the restructuring plans. But, he added, "Given the SCC's independence from the City, we are not necessarily apprised of their internal organizational plans."

Though Scottsdale Cultural Council is an independent nonprofit organization, it is contracted by the City of Scottsdale to manage arts and cultural projects along with SMoCA, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and Scottsdale Public Art, all of which are owned by the City.

That high-profile positions at SMoCA have gone unfilled only adds grist to the rumor mill. Those roles include curator of performing arts, a job Tania Katan left in January 2015, and SMoCA PR and marketing manager, a job Lesley Oliver left in November 2014.

While Perl says he can't speak to plans for hiring when it comes to specific jobs, he does say that the SCC is in the midst of strategic planning that involves addressing job openings. Currently, neither of the aforementioned positions are listed among the Council's employment opportunities.

The arts community is outraged at the rumors. Many were hopeful that Perl would turn the Scottsdale Cultural Council around after Banchs served as its president for five and a half years. Banchs had a reputation for being difficult to work with and stifling dissent.

Sette, whose eponymous gallery was located in Scottsdale for 28 years before relocating to Phoenix in 2014, says that Rodgers leaving SMoCA would be a great loss.

"To have the arts background and be able to manage people and allow them to shine for the good of the institution and the good of the community -- that's a really rare quality," she says of the museum director's unique qualifications.

If the rumors prove true, Sette says, Scottsdale will become insignificant in the art world after years of success and notoriety. "They're going to lose all of that momentum."

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