The museum will be rebranding as a collective art space called The Imaginarea, according to local photographer Mello Jello’s Instagram, and will be under new management by a former staffer, who said her old boss, Bill Tonnesen, will not be involved in the business in any way.
However, Tonnesen, a local artist and landscape architect who was the subject of a recent Phoenix New Times investigation in which 15 women accused him of sexual harassment over the last decade, and his wife, Pilar, will continue to own the property, receiving rent payments for use of the space.
“Pilar Tonnesen is our land lady only,” Marrioth Alfonzo, the new manager, said in a statement sent via Instagram. "They own the building .... She and her husband are not involved in our business in any way. Zero proceeds of our business will go to them.”
Bill and Pilar Tonnesen did not respond to requests for comment.
The space's reopening comes on the first First Friday since the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Tonnesen over the last 10 years were reported by New Times.
The day before the New Times story broke, the museum shut down, with the message, “The Lavatory will be dark till October 4, 2019 while we re-configure and re-imagine the experience,” posted on its website and the space’s entrance doors.
Right on schedule, The Lavatory will be reopening as The Imaginarea. Details about the nature of this space, and how it will differ from the former museum, are unclear. The space’s ball pit, a popular selling point for the Lavatory, will continue to have “ball drops” on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Alfonzo declined to comment further but did issue this statement via Instagram Direct Message:
“The Lavatory is permanently out of business. My partner Nico and I own 100% of Imaginarea. I have a new vision for the property and everything is going to change.”
The reopening of The Lavatory space is not without pain for the alleged victims who spoke out about their experiences with Tonnesen.
“When I saw the announcement of a rebranding and reopening, my stomach dropped,” said Kristen, who requested to only go by her first name out of fear of retaliation. She reported being harassed by Tonnesen in 2015. “I pictured myself back in the room at The Strip [the space that would become the Lavatory] during my job interview — him walking over to the door, trapping me in a room with him, and his words: ‘Show me your pussy. Spread it.’"
Though Tonnesen has disappeared from the public eye since New Times’ reporting, the art maven remains a presence in the Valley as the arts community prepares for October’s First Friday.
Across town at Chaos Theory, local artist David Dauncey will be displaying a new portrait of Tonnesen, which he said he was prompted to paint after reading the women’s stories in the New Times article. He’s planning on donating 35 percent of the proceeds from the work to Eve's Place, a local nonprofit that supports victims of domestic, sexual, and teen dating abuse.
The piece is titled, “Show Yourself to Me!”
The Imaginarea, 4700 North 12th Street, #112, will open in the space formerly known as The Lavatory at 7 p.m. on Friday, October 4.