6 December 2007
To everyone who has expressed support for my curatorial and community work, I offer my heartfelt gratitude. During the past three months I've received an abundance of emails and phone calls, which I deeply appreciate, from artists, organizers, business owners, and educators who I have worked with over the last decade and across many cities. It's an honor to receive such strong advocacy and encouragement from fellow curators and institutions that I admire, and I'm delighted that my exhibitions, events, and screenings have been memorable for so many. I never expected this wellspring of support.
I recognize that my situation has touched upon critical issues of creative and academic freedom, institutional transparency, effective civic engagement, and the support for emerging visions and artists. Below you'll find an update on the situation. Through this ordeal, I've thankfully gotten to know the brave residents of Syracuse who are committed to open discourse and social justice. Your collective passion, acuity, and clear articulation are phenomenal. You have given me hope and inspiration during an incredibly difficult time.
In addition to the over one hundred letters that have been posted at www.syracuse-warehouse.blogspot.com, I would like to acknowledge the thousands of others who have privately endorsed my reinstatement at The Warehouse Gallery and/or my hire in the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University, and who have voiced disappointment over my dismissal. I appreciate the rallies and receptions organized on my behalf, as well as my appointment to the first Public Art Commission of the City of Syracuse, based on my involvement with Tomorrow's Neighborhoods Today, Th3 Citywide Art Night, Syracuse Experimental Film & Media Workshop, and the 40 Below Public Arts Task Force.
My chief goal as a citizen and as a curator is to enrich the communities in which I live and work, through engaging, exciting, and relevant creative work. I believe that the thousands of Warehouse Gallery visitors, the consistently positive exhibition reviews and attendant press, the invitations to tour exhibitions, and the ample enthusiastic viewer comments demonstrate my ability to fulfill that goal.
I'm unsure what the future holds for me, but I look forward to bringing new exhibitions and events to other spaces and locations, both here and elsewhere. Thanks to initiatives like the Syracuse Public Art Commission, Th3, Lipe Art Park, the Public Arts Task Force, and the Gear Factory; emergent small businesses like Roji Tea Lounge, Sugar Pearl, Second Story Books, and Funk'n Waffles; and collaborative, interdisciplinary arts organizations like Spark Contemporary Art Space, the Community Folk Art Center, Delavan Center, and The Redhouse, Syracuse is beginning to fulfill its promise as a rising cultural center. Regardless of whether the Connective Corridor delivers on its rhetoric about building bridges between University Hill and downtown, I am optimistic that the inspirited residents and students of Syracuse will take up the cause to make this city a better place to live – actually, they're already doing it!
Very truly yours,
- My work at the gallery and information on all of the artists that I exhibited were removed from the official Warehouse Gallery website, so I have archived them at www.astriasuparak.com/thewarehousegallery
My situation with Syracuse University has been convoluted and confusing over the past few months. Contradictory reasons were given by Chancellor Nancy Cantor, Vice Chancellor Eric Spina, Dean Carole Brzozowski, Associate Dean Ann Clarke, and Jeffrey Hoone for my dismissal from The Warehouse Gallery as well as the withdrawal of an offer of a new position in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Here I've attempted to address the questions that people frequently ask.
• My personnel file contains no reason for layoff, no performance review, no complaints, and no warning.
• Syracuse University offered and then withdrew, within the same day, a consulting agreement for my Curator-in-Residence services in VPA (which would have been funded by the Chancellor's Initiatives).
• During my employment at SU, I had only one meeting with a Human Resources representative and Hoone, which seemed to indicate, along with the assignment of a new direct supervisor, a commitment to my work at the gallery for the next programming year.
• Hoone gave me 7 weeks to program one year's worth of exhibitions. When he laid me off, he effectively cancelled two years of programming plans.
• Hoone backtracked on his decision to cancel my Yes Men exhibition and attempted to continue the show without my involvement. The Yes Men, whose work focuses on corporate malpractice and social injustice, refused Hoone's turncoat overture to exhibit without me.
• Hoone stated that my programming was a reason for my dismissal (after weeks of claiming I was laid off for "organizational restructuring," and then for "confidential personnel issue"), although it is this same programming that was a major factor in my hire.
• Hoone asked for changes to nearly every exhibition I organized. For example, I was asked twice by Hoone to remove the word "feminist" from an exhibition title.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
6 December 2007
Posted by Whats this? at 11:47 PM
Censorship is an issue many observers have instinctively seized upon, primarily due to the subject matter of some of my exhibitions and the timing and way in which I was dismissed. Mr. Jeffrey Hoone, Executive Director of the umbrella organization that oversees The Warehouse Gallery, asked for changes to nearly every exhibition, including exhibition premises, titles, presentation, and publicity materials. I prefer if people draw their own conclusions about whether there was censorship, based on some of the evidence that has already been made public.
Posted by Whats this? at 11:47 PM
During the hiring process for the position of Director of Arts Programming in May 2006, I submitted several pages of curated, group exhibition proposals that detailed the ideas, issues, and artists that I wished to work with. These exhibition proposals, along with my curatorial history, resume, and website, were reviewed and discussed during the hiring process. The overall response from the hiring committee to my exhibition proposals was that they were integral to the eight-person committee's unanimous decision to hire me. All of the exhibitions I curated for the gallery were drawn from this original list. I clearly expressed the direction I wanted to take this new organization, which I named The Warehouse Gallery, and the exhibitions that I would organize there. I fulfilled what I set out to do. Mr. Hoone recently stated to a journalist that my programming was a reason for my dismissal (this after weeks of claiming I was laid off for "organizational restructuring", and then for "confidential personnel issue"), although it is this same programming that was a major factor in my hiring.
After I included artist duo and Syracuse University Transmedia faculty members Duke and Battersby in the Faux Naturel group exhibition (which was reviewed in a major international art magazine and toured to a Canadian university), Mr. Hoone mandated that The Warehouse Gallery would no longer include Syracuse University faculty or student work.
Mr. Hoone also stated a desire for solo exhibitions. I explained that I wanted to spend the inaugural year developing and refining the new organization's operation and exhibition procedures, hiring staff, and building the gallery's reputation before approaching accomplished and emerging artists for solo shows. Also, many established artists are booked years in advance. Over the course of my first year, I began correspondence with several prominent artists about solo exhibitions. On July 1, 2007, six out of eight exhibitions that I proposed for the next two years were solo shows, featuring Paul Chan, Natalie Jeremijenko, Nina Katchadourian, Walid Raad and the Yes Men, among others. These exhibitions would have fulfilled the gallery's mission by "illuminating the critical issues of our life and times," including social justice, corporate inhumanity, cultural identity, environmental contamination, militarization, and systems of language and organization. Mr. Hoone expressed personal disinterest in many of the artists I proposed, and described these proposals as "too dense" and too similar, implying they were overly complex and academic. This response contradicted his earlier criticism that the previous exhibitions were "more style than substance." According to visitor testimonials and press reviews, most would disagree with his opinion.
When asked for a written statement clarifying the reasons for my layoff and the cancellation of the first-ever solo exhibition by internationally-acclaimed, anti-corporate artists the Yes Men, Mr. Hoone responded by saying he "determined that there was not enough continuity to effectively proceed with the Yes Men exhibition at this time." Within hours, Mr. Hoone asked for all of my correspondence and exhibition plans with the Yes Men. That is, in the face of mounting faculty pressure in support of my curatorial practice and the Yes Men exhibition, Mr. Hoone backtracked on his decision to cancel my Yes Men exhibition and attempted to continue the show without my involvement. The Yes Men, whose work focuses on social injustice and corporate malpractice, refused Hoone's turncoat overture to exhibit without my participation. They stated that they didn't trust Mr. Hoone or his organization. Furthermore, Mr. Hoone mislead people about the exhibition's cancellation, by blaming me, and then the artists, for what was his initial decision.
When Mr. Hoone laid me off, I had to personally contact all of the artists with whom I had been making exhibition plans for the next two years to tell them that the shows were cancelled, which was extremely distressing. This not only compromised my integrity as a curator, but also the integrity and reputations of the gallery, CMAC, and Syracuse University.
Posted by Whats this? at 11:46 PM
I was never given a formal, first, or final warning indicating that my job at The Warehouse Gallery was in jeopardy.
In March 2007, Mr. Hoone asked me to resign, weeks prior to the University-wide performance review process. Within days of this request, Mr. Hoone left on an unexplained, (in his words) "sudden" Leave of Absence, with instructions that he was not to be contacted. Ms. Patricia Tassini, Assistant Director of Employment Practices and Equal Employment Opportunities at the Human Resources Department of Syracuse University, expressed surprise over Mr. Hoone's request for my resignation, as there was nothing in my personnel file indicating a problem. She implied to me that the proper H.R. procedure had not been followed. Ms. Tassini advised me via phone to continue working as if the conversation with Mr. Hoone never occurred. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Tom Walsh, Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement in the Chancellor's Cabinet, contacted me via phone to ensure that I would continue working on the next exhibition I programmed at the gallery, which he understood to be important for the University. This exhibition was Networked Nature, organized by Rhizome at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City.
Following this unexpected turn of events, I contacted the members of my hiring committee. One by one, each expressed shock over Mr. Hoone's decision to dismiss me. They all felt my work at the gallery was successful and in lockstep with what I proposed during the hiring process. It appears that Mr. Hoone did not discuss my performance or his decision with Mr. Frank Olive, my Assistant Director, a person I hired and worked closely with, or the eight members of the hiring committee that moved me from Montreal to Syracuse for the inaugural position of Director.
After Mr. Hoone returned from a month-long Leave of Absence in April, I had one meeting with him and Ms. Tassini from Human Resources, during which his request for my resignation was never acknowledged, discussed, or explained. Based on conversations with Ms. Tassini, I was under the impression that at this meeting we would discuss my performance in accordance to Human Resource's review process and a set of goals would be created together. I was led to believe that Mr. Hoone's request for resignation was off the record and without due process. One of the goals given to me by Mr. Hoone was to program the next year of exhibitions, with budgets, within seven weeks. Two weeks after this meeting, I was assigned a new direct supervisor: Mr. Domenic Iacono, Director of SUArt Galleries. In light of my meeting with Mr. Hoone and Ms. Tassini, the list of goals for the 2007-2008 programming year, and the assignment of a new supervisor, I felt secure in my position for the upcoming exhibition year.
Since I was never given a performance review (although I turned in the documents to begin the process), I was left to assess my own performance according to the success of my work's public reception; invitations for the exhibitions to tour internationally; increased attendance for each exhibition (reaching over 4,000 for Come On); and the growing press attention, including consistently positive reviews in the local media and in international contemporary art publications. Attributing to my confidence that I was on the right performance track were the requests that I received to serve on juries for a state arts council and a local art competition; as a recommender for two major national arts grants; as a panelist for final MFA reviews at a highly-respected institution; as an advisory board member for a National Museum's film festival; and as a thesis committee member for a MFA student at Syracuse University; as well as the growing partnerships I had built with various departments at Syracuse University and community businesses and organizations.
With less than a day's notice, Mr. Hoone scheduled a meeting with me for September 7, 2007. At this impromptu meeting, Mr. Hoone stated that he was laying me off. He did not give a clear reason for this, nor was my direct supervisor present. Mr. Hoone expressed concern about the gallery's direction. When I asked what direction he wanted for the gallery, he answered: the same direction it was always going in. This answer was confusing to me. Then I asked what was going to happen with the next exhibition with the Yes Men, scheduled to open two months later. Mr. Hoone told me this exhibition wasn't going to happen. I was responsible for notifying the artists and the many professors in various departments who invested financially and pedagogically in this exhibition, included it in their curricula, and scheduled class visits.
In October I visited the Office of Human Resources at Syracuse University to review my personnel file. The file contained only six documents: four were standard new employee documents (regarding health benefits, etc.), one was a letter from Human Resources confirming my layoff, dated September 25, 2007, and one was an undated and unsigned list of goals for 2007-2008. At that time, Ms. Curlene Autrey, Director of Diversity and Resolution Processes at Human Resources, informed me that if an employee is let go because of a performance or personnel issue, the employee should first receive a performance review indicating the problem, or a letter clearly stating that if s/he fails to meet a set of criteria the result would be termination. I never received any such documents. My personnel file indicated no reason for my layoff, and contained no performance review, no complaints, and no warning. This indicates a lack of performance and personnel-related issues, and an avoidance of proper Human Resources procedures, highly contrasting the explanation widely distributed by S.U. administration including Chancellor Nancy Cantor, that my dismissal was based on "confidential personnel issues."
Posted by Whats this? at 11:44 PM
In late September 2007, Ms. Ann Clarke, Associate Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University, informed me that she was working to create a position for me in VPA at the request of its faculty. This position, created specifically for me with my input, was to be funded by the Chancellor's Initiatives and administered by VPA. Ms. Clarke wrote, "The faculty call for your being brought into VPA , is in significant part due to wanting an even more engaged forum of connection between your work and curriculum." I understood this outreach on the part of VPA as an opportunity to build on the positive relationships I forged with various faculty members, many of whom brought classes to my exhibitions and events, and sponsored lectures, class visits, and critiques by the artists involved in my exhibitions. The VPA professors staged a unanimous boycott of the annual faculty exhibition to protest my dismissal and the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers' lack of dialogue with its constituents.
At VPA's request, I proposed a Curator-in-Residence position informed by research into other residency models and with the advice and input of diverse city residents and professors. After submitting my proposal for this position to Ms. Clarke, there was little follow-up or discussion about how my proposal related to the needs of VPA as perceived by its leadership, or how my proposal was being considered or modified by the administration of VPA.
In the only meeting I had with Ms. Clarke and Ms. Eleanor Ware, Senior Vice President for Human Services and Government Relations, which I was told to arrive alone to, Ms. Ware began with accusatory innuendo about my dismissal and personnel file. She did not allow for questions or a discussion to clarify these issues, because she said she wanted to focus on the future and not the past. Ms. Ware and Ms. Clarke seemed to want to confirm my interest in a position in VPA , but said the terminology used in my Curator-in-Residence proposal, such as "proposal," "position," and "program," could not be used in the new "mutually acceptable arrangement going forward." I was asked to arrive at a second meeting with Ms. Ware and Ms. Clarke to review a draft legal agreement to settle my last position at The Warehouse Gallery and to outline the new contracting services with VPA. I expressed discomfort about attending another meeting alone, to which Ms. Ware replied that the university's lawyer would be present at the next meeting. Thus, I was required to hire an attorney in order to continue negotiations with Syracuse University.
On October 29, I met with Ms. Clarke and Ms. Carole Brzozowski, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, along with two professors, Ms. Joanna Spitzner, School of Art and Design, and Mr. Tom Sherman, Department of Transmedia. In this meeting, Ms. Brzozowski and Ms. Clarke were explicitly reassured by Ms. Spitzner and Mr. Sherman that the position I proposed had the support of VPA faculty. Everyone present seemed to agree that I would positively contribute to the College.
Syracuse University's lawyer provided my attorney with the contracting agreement on November 2, 2007. Less than a day later, Syracuse University withdrew the offer. The reason for this turnabout, provided by Ms. Clarke, was that I spoke to the student paper, The Daily Orange, a day prior. Yet within the same article, titled "Suparak may return as VPA curator, liaison for arts," Vice Chancellor Eric Spina was also quoted. In this article I was quoted about the possibility of working with VPA in positive and general terms: "I feel like we've broken through a bit in finding out more information. I'm really glad that they're receptive to it and that they're looking at it." University administration, including Ms. Clarke, never told me that speaking to the press would compromise this new position.
Ms. Clarke later stated that VPA leadership was focused on creating a position to meet the specific needs of VPA. However, in previous discussions between VPA faculty and administration, it was the faculty and student support of my curatorial work and their desire to retain me in Syracuse that led to the possibility of the Curator-in-Residence position. In yet another strange twist, Ms. Clarke and Ms. Brzozowski announced on November 12 their intent to pursue the Curator-in-Residence position (without me), because the faculty had clearly shown support for it. This occurred after they officially withdrew the proposal we had been working on together. When asked during this meeting why negotiations with Ms. Suparak had ended, Ms. Clarke stated that VPA administration couldn't get past the "nuts and bolts" issues (such as office space), and since "there seemed to be no progress," they decided to "cut their loses" and withdraw the offer. Contrary to what Ms. Clarke told me privately and the media publicly, she did not invoke the Daily Orange article as a reason for cutting off negotiations in this meeting. What Ms. Clarke and Ms. Brzozowski failed to acknowledge was that the Curator-in-Residence position is something I created, drafted, and proposed, in dialogue with university faculty and members of the Syracuse community, in response to VPA's vocal support of my work and their request that I remain at Syracuse University.
Posted by Whats this? at 8:26 PM
At the time of Suparak's dismissal, Hoone also canceled her forthcoming exhibitions, including "Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men," due to open in November 2007.