Mobile might be a bit short on playwrights but that’s not to say we don’t craft our own drama. Too bad most of it is birthed in personal agendas rather than literary expertise.
It seems a month doesn’t pass that Artifice doesn’t catch word of percolating injustice or burgeoning scandal in some quarter of the arts realm. It’s been a constant theme during the last 13 years covering this Azalea City beat.
Every personnel shift, every restructuring, every new exhibition or change of any type results in skullduggery or whispers of ineptitude. It’s just the way humans are.
On Dec. 9 Amanda Solley-Wilson, Alabama Contemporary Art Center director of exhibitions and programs, posted a public statement on Facebook that seemed to address new responsibilities at the Cathedral Square showplace formerly known as Space 301. Though the epistle eventually became a note of gratitude to colleague Allison Schaub and ACAC Board of Trustees Chairman Mike Dow for support, the 709-word open letter started less gracefully.
“One year ago, I was struggling with my job at Alabama Contemporary Art Center due to a shortage of confidence, a bully that absolutely detested my ambition and a lack of focus within the organization as a whole. And exactly a year ago, we were informed that Bob Sain [the director] was leaving the organization and no plans were being put in place to fill his position,” Solley-Wilson wrote.
Whoops. The last portion ran contrary to what Dow told me on record last December. He said a nationwide search for Sain’s replacement would begin soon.
Solley-Wilson’s statements also portrayed her diminished self-confidence and general doubts. She went on to describe her travails in seizing control of a floundering institution, then thanked those who helped her. Good enough, but other things gave pause.
Selfishly on my part, there was her announcement of an upcoming Cuban art show, something I was told about in spring 2016 but was asked to embargo until ACAC was ready for public disclosure. My compliance came with the understanding I would be allowed a shot at breaking the news. I never received that signal from ACAC before Solley-Wilson’s recent missive.
Was her seminal intention to unveil her promotion? Likely, but there was shortfall there, too.
It might sound old fashioned, but the Fourth Estate can actually do that work for you plus reach folks you don’t know to create a bigger splash. Though I’ve looked for others, I appear to be our state’s only arts editor — yet I haven’t seen the first press release or email about Solley-Wilson’s advancement.
Most disconcerting was her reference to ACAC’s organizational miasma and the “bully” who kept her down. She makes further references to “feeling terror” when she pulled into the parking lot and being ready to quit. In corporate/political speak, these aren’t good optics.
Regardless of a situation’s reality, it’s not wise to air dirty laundry, for numerous reasons so well proven they’re clichés. It can undermine public faith in an organization, especially if previous staff or directors are still involved.
Journalists witness these dynamics constantly. Off-the-record revelations abound and show the three truths of every tale — mine, yours and “the whole.” But when it comes time for public statements, everyone lets discretion and diplomacy rule.
Let’s say you’re running a performance venue and discover malfeasance, maybe a middle manager is dipping into the cookie jar. It’s better to quietly dismiss them without public admonishment. Make it as easy as possible for them to go on their way and let other fallout take its course.
Even if the aggrieved lashes out through whisper campaigns and political games, you have to hold steady. It’s hard but also the most prudent path.
Artifice tried to contact Solley-Wilson to ask specifically about the “bully’s” identity and gain further explanation about her reference. I was unsuccessful.
What soured her public statement most was it sounded too much like an invitation to batter someone who wasn’t there to speak for him or herself. A few of the 250-plus who “liked” the public statement seemed positive of this tormentor’s name and ready to join a public pummeling.
This is the opposite of what is needed. Eyes forward, language hopeful and lead from a place of vision not grievance, please.
For most of us, it takes too many mistakes to learn these things. With ACAC’s future in your hands, Ms. Solley-Wilson, you’ll need to be a quick study. It’s one of few Mobile venues with the greatest capability of injecting fresh inspirational genes into an often-insular scene, so it’s vital.
I’ve seen some truly incredible and innovative art at ACAC, stuff I once thought I would never witness in Mobile as it took a lot of wherewithal to bring it to town. Balancing that potential with winnowing resources is going to prove taxing.
Best of luck, Ms. Solley-Wilson, and congrats on the new office.