A spate of midsummer resignations from the Mobile Arts Council board of directors cut meeting attendance by roughly a third and has set tongues wagging throughout the close-knit arts community. The timbre of the scuttlebutt varies.
“I think a lot of people have put a lot of hard work into it and I really wish that things were not the way it is right now,” former board member Lakeshia Dotson said.
“Well, the issue that brought it about was insignificant. The fact that somebody calls you a liar is a different story,” said Mary Cousar, emeritus board member.
MAC Board President Jeff Marcus said he feels they have removed “obstacles” and finds the response encouraging.
“It’s amazing. Now that the word’s out the Arts Council is no longer as stodgy, people are literally emailing the board members asking if they can help, if there are positions on the board for them, et cetera,” Marcus said.
The round of departures began after the board’s regular July 10 meeting. Marcus claimed that while he was out of town a faction consisting of Cousar, Immediate Past President Bunky Ralph and Board Vice President Marianne Terry ran an acrimonious board meeting in his stead. Marcus said he received 18 text messages and two voicemails from other board members as it occurred.
“I don’t want to disparage anyone, but all the arguing and discord was a no-win for anybody. The finger-pointing and calling names shouldn’t happen in a board meeting,” Marcus said.
Upon his return, Marcus called a special meeting of the executive committee that convened two days later. When Cousar, Ralph and Terry denied the characterizations of their actions, Marcus openly doubted their veracity. Cousar was first to tender resignation, via email.
“As an emeritus, it’s kind of hard to resign. I just said I was no longer going to participate in anything with the board and to please remove my name from the letterhead,” Cousar said.
Cousar said she has been a part of the MAC board since 2005. As executive director of the Sybil H. Smith Charitable Trust, she has “way too many things in my life that I need to do and want to do and if somebody doesn’t appreciate my contribution, I can go find somebody else to help.”
Ralph and Terry quickly resigned as well. Within days, board member Justine Herlihy — she said she was in the first year of a three-year term — followed suit. In the following weeks, Dotson and board member Leslie Holberg stepped down.
Marcus said the last two cited time commitments as impediments. Dotson told Artifice that wasn’t the case with her, though she declined to provide an official reason.
Devin Ford replaced Marianne Terry as vice president. Chappell Brady is still secretary and Debbie Stevens is treasurer.
Marcus said the remaining board members are Russ Adams, Ben Jernigan, John Mims, Luke Peavy, Richard Shields, Maggie Smith, Sally Trufant and Melody Ziedan. He also said the board voted to accept two new members but those additions have yet to be notified.
MAC continues its search for an executive director, a position unfilled since Bob Burnett left in January 2015 after more than a dozen years at the helm. A nine-year MAC veteran in various capacities, Ralph recently volunteered to serve as interim director for five months. She stepped down in early July after 90 days in that role.
Marcus said fundraising will be a chief task of a new executive director. Ralph pointed to Cousar and Terry as instrumental sponsor and fund raisers in recent years. Marcus feels MAC can cope with their loss.
A generational rift was cited by exiting board members.
“Members of the board view it as generational but I think the Arts Council needed to be, I’ll use the word ‘cooler.’ Our brand needs to be on everything artistic in the community. We should have our name on TenSixtyFive, on everything,” Marcus said.
He pointed to a recent allocation of grant money through four community recipients as indicative of their future course. Even so, regrets remain.
“I know Mary Cousar and Bunky [Ralph] have put their all into the organization. They’ve worked extremely hard for the organization, so it’s just an unfortunate situation,” Dotson said.
“My driving force was to help an organization that continues to be very important to our community. They will weather this. I don’t think it’s devastating,” Ralph said.
Marcus agreed on both MAC’s essential role and its endurance.
“We’re not going to miss a lick because I’m not going to let us miss a lick,” Marcus said.