A sad turn at the Chaffee
The first thing we knew — we members of the Chaffee Art Center — about things getting hinky at the beloved grand dame of the Rutland arts scene was an email from W. Tracy Carris — who turned out to be the board chairman of the Chaffee.
He began that email with the mysterious words, “... The Chaffee is as strong as ever and is moving forward with a newly energized and excited Board of Directors.”
That last was ominous: Boards of directors should not be excited, and God forbid they be energized. Their function should be to raise funds and hire a director and then to stand solidly behind him or her and help him or her achieve the goals. Period.
And although I wondered what prompted them, W. Tracy Carris’ words were no surprise to me: I knew that the Chaffee was moving forward with Mary Mitiguy at the helm and Jessica Kaminski as her assistant, and I couldn’t have cared less about the board of directors. When I looked at the list of them, I realized I had not seen one of them at the Chaffee since its reincarnation a few years ago, not in the everyday activities and not at the openings of new shows.
I’m not on the board, though I have been in the past, nor am I on any committees. But over the last 30 years of the Chaffee I have spent many hours writing press releases and working for the Chaffee in other ways and attending almost every “opening” they have ever had — from the time back in the ’80s when Susan Farrow and her husband, Patrick, and their friend, Mark Skakel, brought new energy to the Chaffee in her dowager years and made her young again.
Now I spend a couple of hours in the Chaffee’s beautiful galleries every week, and I have been astonished and very pleased at how active the Chaffee is, at how many people come in to look at art, to attend a class or rehearse for one of the plays that have been put on there, or just to say hello.
The Chaffee hosts the very vibrant Chaffee Writers Group each week, as it has the Vermont Repertory Theater group a few times this last year. It hosts children’s classes, and downtown mural artists. I see children with paint on their fingers and faces, adults who are community members, artists, and/or tourists, adolescents, and school groups — in other words, all kinds of people. In addition, I see the physical projects for which Mary wrote grants being completed. The Chaffee is used and looking good.
Mary stepped in those three years ago when the Chaffee was moribund, had lost its director and the board was on the verge of selling the beautiful old building. That’s when the old board was replaced by people whose thinking was more in line with the membership at large. It was a daunting job to bring that cold and dilapidated building back to life, but Mary did it — alone until Jessica came along — and the two of them seemed to have just a perfect common goal of making the Chaffee beautiful and whole and vital. And that was a goal that was being accomplished through long hours of outreach, grant writing, and superb artistic judgment.
So it was a complete shock to learn what W. Tracy Carris was talking about through a Herald article: The board had fired Mary Mitiguy!
So what can be done? I really have no idea, save reinstating Mary and Jessica, though I doubt they’d return at this point. As for the board’s ignorance of what the membership directed it to do three years ago, and the board’s overblown idea of what they think they need (and can get) in an executive director? I say good luck. I hear Sigourney Weaver is all booked up, as is Hillary Clinton.
And me? There is only so much energy one can give an organization that others are devoted to tearing down. I cannot, in all conscience, support this board. What they have done lacks any kind of good judgment, finesse, or justice. It was, simply cruel to everyone involved.
Sharon Parquette Nimtz lives in Wallingford.