Wednesday, July 13, 2011

SF Arts Commission Names New Interim Director

As Jeff Adachi was delivering his pension reform petitions to the Department of Elections in the basement of San Francisco's City Hall on Monday afternoon, the San Francisco Art Commission was having a Full Committee meeting on the fourth floor. The major item on the agenda was the naming of a new Director of Cultural Affairs to replace Luis Cancel, who had suddenly resigned and moved back to New York City last week.

Officially, Cancel was resigning so he could return home, but according to political gossip columnists Matier & Ross (click here), he was on the verge of being ousted by the commissioners for spending too much time at his second home in Rio de Janeiro and for being abusive to his staff, including Director of Programs Jill Manton above.

Cancel was appointed in February 2008 by former Mayor Gavin Newsom on the recommendation of a search committee led by Arts Commission President P.J. Johnston above (click here for a post about Cancel's swearing in ceremony). Johnston was former Mayor Willie Brown Jr.'s press secretary where he was regularly required to defend the indefensible, a valuable skill for his current resume: "communications consultant specializing in media and public relations, crisis communications, communication strategies, messaging, government affairs and political campaigning."

Cancel's tenure was marked by a number of high-profile public art installations, including sculptures by Manolo Valdes in Civic Center Plaza three years ago (click here for a post about Valdes' Infantas). Cancel (above right) heaped praise on the visionary Mayor Gavin Newsom at every public event but Newsom (middle) is no longer around, and neither is the ousted and disgraced head of the Rec & Park Department, Yomi Agunbiade (above left). With Nathaniel Ford at Muni being shown the door recently with his golden parachute, the track record for Newsom's high-profile department appointees is not looking very good.

The San Francisco Arts Commission was created in 1932 via the City Charter and has always been something of an insider, clubby affair, with a mixture of socialites and arts bureaucrats on its 15-member board directing 40 city employees. There are a number of artists who have learned to negotiate the bureaucracy with skill, such as Supervisor candidate Debra Walker (above in the pantsuit), but for most artists in San Francisco the commission is something of a joke.

Except for myself and a new Chronicle reporter, Stephanie Lee (above left, talking to Public Programs Project Manager Kate Patterson), everyone at the meeting seemed to either work for the Arts Commission or be dependent upon them in some way for money and resources.

The commissioners eventually sent everyone into the hallway for a closed session as they discussed who should replace Cancel. The unanimous vote was for Commission Vice President JD Beltran to act as interim director until a new permanent director could be found. Beltran is a "conceptual artist, filmmaker and writer," teaches at the SF Art Institute, and also has a column as a "City Bright" at the SFGate site. Lately, she has been covering MFA shows at colleges in the Bay Area (click here).

Beltran insists that she doesn't want the job permanently and is looking forward to returning to her Art Institute teaching job in a couple of months, but after watching the Ed Lee interim mayor maneuvers this summer, it's hard to believe any San Francisco official's public pronouncements about their tenure.

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