• Unexplained firing at Chaffee a bad idea
    October 06,2012
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    I join Sharon Nimtz (Sept. 29) and Patricia Mandeville (Oct. 2) in writing to express my dismay about the abrupt dismissal of Chaffee Art Center Executive Director Mary Mitiguy by the Chaffee’s board of directors.

    On Sept. 5, we, the Chaffee membership, received an odd and apparently pointless email from board President William Tracy Carris speaking vaguely of change regarding increased outreach to downtown Rutland and assuring us that everything at the Chaffee was OK. Until I saw that email I had never heard of Mr. Carris, and had no idea he was the board president.

    Knowing that Mary had been concerned about her position, I responded to Mr. Carris specifically asking, “Is the change you’re speaking of simply an increase in the number and type of organizations with which the Chaffee will be interacting and cooperating in the future?” to which he responded, “The simple answer is yes.”

    Soon after, the Herald reported that Mary had been dismissed. To say I was angry about being handed misinformation would be an understatement.

    Despite my concern, I held off making any public comment until now, assuming that the board would provide the membership with some explanation of such a momentous and ill-advised move. To date we have received no such communication. When Sharon Nimtz revealed the issue in an opinion piece here, I decided I could no longer remain silent.

    While I have been a member only a few years, as an art writer and finalist for two executive positions at the Chaffee I have been familiar with the organization since 1995. From then until now Mary Mitiguy was, in my estimation, the best and most professional person to fill the executive director position. She has been not only a hands-on worker who dealt personally with members, but also an active and effective fundraiser, bringing in much-needed support for programs and the physical plant. She has greatly energized the membership in the cause of keeping the organization viable and vibrant.

    I mentioned that prior to receiving Mr. Carris’ email I did not know his name, let alone the fact of his being board chairman. Viewing the list of board members on the Chaffee website, I find that I don’t know most of them, and only four or five of the 11 appear to have any art credentials. More troubling is that I don’t see names of some arts professionals I was sure were added to the board not all that long ago.

    An art organization board need not be professionally qualified in the arts to govern the organization. The primary jobs of a nonprofit board are to raise funds and to keep the organization in the public view. There is no evidence that the members of this board have in fact done either of these. Mary Mitiguy did.

    I am especially troubled by the tone in Mr. Carris’ letter defending the Chaffee’s outlier position with regard to downtown. I think he protests too much, and I, for one, would like to know just what the board’s agenda for the Chaffee Art Center and its membership, the Rutland Area Art Association, is, regarding having a downtown presence. I have to ask just how much of a downtown presence we’re talking about. Three of the board’s four officers are business people with strong downtown ties; is it possible there’s an actual physical move in their minds?

    Mary Mitiguy’s termination from the Chaffee was a profoundly bad idea. An exceptionally unfortunate consequence of it was that gifted gallery director Jessica Kaminski followed her out the door. I doubt it’s possible for that team to be replaced.

    I have posted Mr. Carris’ letter to the membership on my Facebook page. Members of the board of directors are listed on the Chaffee website, chaffeeartcenter.org. I urge all Chaffee members and art-interested members of the public to contact them and press for answers to the many questions that surround Mary Mitiguy’s termination. The board should reinstate her if she would even return at this time. At the very least they should apologize to members and to the public for operating like some secret organization that owes accountability to no one.

    Richard L. Brown is a resident of Rutland.
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