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November 16, 2018

3/7/2018 11:13:00 AM
The moan from MoNA
From the editor: After a sigh of relief, will a cry at the cliff be next?

Christopher Shainin chose a difficult and courageous act when he stepped down as executive director of the Museum of Northwest Art February 22. At least the last year of his tenure was conflictual: 15 board members have resigned since the start of 2017 and two senior staff, Development Director Liz Theaker and Northwest Legacies Project Curator Kathleen Moles resigned.
MoNA is in a mess.
That was the message provided by a variety of voices and points of view at a February 21 community workshop called for input on MoNA’s future. There was not a unity of purpose that evening which devolved – or evolved – into a town hall meeting airing both grievances and hopes.
What is the way forward?
It is clear, as consultants found in an assessment last year, that there is a lack of common vision at MoNA, and “MoNA’s culture of conflict + contradiction + controversy is holding the museum back.” Combine that with $300,000 of needed repairs and the board of trustees announcement that they have cut $214,000 from the 2018 budget and the math adds up to huge hurdles in front of the remaining six board members.
Plus, David Hall leaves the board after three terms come April and Board President Gary Molyneaux will step down from that position and may not finish his term. Only Chris Elliott has more than two years of tenure while several have less than one. And, many of the newer board members live in Seattle or have only recently moved to the Skagit Valley.
Additionally,there is deep rancor between members of the board and the six trustees who resigned en masse in December. One area of agreement is each side’s assertion that exaggerations and lies are being told by the other side about their faction.
Another fact, jointly agreed upon, is that financial strain and raising funds are historic MoNA ,problems.
How will $500,000 be raised under these conditions?
More than a point of comparison, it is a fact that the “Gang of Six” resigned board members have long and deep ties to the museum.
Gretchen McCauley and Meghan Dunlap Rice are scions of Phyllis Dunlap, a museum founder. C.J. Ebert, Betsy Humphrey and Steve Klein have long been involved in MoNA. Only Bruce Bradburn is a recent arrival to La Conner, and he and his artist wife moved here in part because of the museum. And Bradburn has significant fundraising experience from years on Seattle theatre boards.
Here are three truths the skeleton MoNA board must face: 1. the challenge is overwhelming; 2. closure of the Museum on their watch is a real possibility; and 3. the Gang of Six want to be part of the solution, as board members.
This isn’t a superhero film, but who wouldn’t accept allies given the bleakness of the present moment?
More than reconciliation is necessary between the two groups. They must come together as a unity board.
The point of reconciliation is getting results by working together. Keeping the doors open requires raising some $500,000. The board, as President Molyneaux, points out, are the primary fundraisers. Molyneaux has no better ally than Bradburn, who resigned from the board in part because he was told to not make fundraising visits.
Germany’s center left Social Democrats just agreed to a “grand coalition” with their center right opponents, the Christian Democrats. These opposing politicians are working together for the good of their country. Similarly, MoNA’s fractious board factions must unify for the good of La Conner’s community: artists, art supporters, MoNA staff and volunteers, donors, merchants and the general citizenry.
This seems to be the choice the MoNA board can make: to fail separately, as their record of bringing in perhaps $150,000 in the last 15 months indicates. Or they can offer an olive branch and challenge the resigned board members to make good on their rhetoric of securing hundreds of thousands of dollars as re-seated board members.
In other words, the MoNA board can hang separately, as their proud faction, or they can take the chance – the opportunity – that working as equals on a unified board with the December resignees will keep this reconstituted board from hanging together.
Will the MoNA board reconcile and unify? I hope so.
It is a choice they will make, or not.

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