April 21, 2018
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CMCA volunteers deserved better treatment

By Beth Henderson, Special to the BDN

The recent clearing of the decks activity at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, “Rockport art center scales back, lays off staff” (BDN, Nov. 4), would make even a well-seasoned sailor remarkably seasick. With a yet green captain and nary a navigator familiar with the notably rich waters of Maine contemporary art, this ship currently sails under only partial board-of-director power. However, this historic CMCA vessel still has a valiant and remarkable past. Over the years, its aged timbers and walls have housed the works of the finest in Maine’s legendary artist community.

Dismissal is too civil a word for the crass termination of the four CMCA employees who had kept this well-known midcoast arts organization afloat over an extended period of time, without any recognizable or assigned organizational leader. Their individual efforts went unappreciated; their combined savvy and experience in the arts world was ignored; and most insultingly, they were requested to be gone by the end of the workday, on the very same day they were informed as a group that they were done.

It remains to be seen if there shall come an understandable reactionary tide from the volunteers who contributed mightily to the forward movement of the organization. These four former employees met volunteers daily with gratitude and updates on the galleries’ shows. They established the strong bonds and friendships that often served as a safety net for this notable arts organization. Some of these hardworking, frequent volunteers were also board members. They doubly served an organization they have long believed in. Like the four employees, they have left, in shock and disagreement with other board members and the current leadership.

Visible and knowledgeable nonprofit leadership, in addition to board fundraising, are the bone marrow and resulting life blood of a nonprofit organization. Absence or weakness of either of these components in a nonprofit, especially in these economically challenging times, is setting a course for disaster or damage. Simply stated, a ship needs a solid keel and sturdy timbers.

This crew of four, utilizing their combined skills, knowledge and accrued wisdom, undoubtedly kept CMCA afloat for an extended voyage. They have done so with remarkable mutual respect and support. Since the board’s responsibility ultimately is the oversight of financial reports, the question remains as to why these dismiss-als occurred so suddenly and inclusively. And, further, since it is the board’s responsibility to hire executive leaders, one is led to wonder who is actually responsible for this recent action. The board? The recently hired executive director? It would seem profitable for this nonprofit to set the record straight.

In 1225, a forgotten saint claimed “Time and tide wait for no one.” Will Shakespeare years later suggested, “There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.” The wisdom inherent in these words leads me to wonder whether CMCA has not “thrown the baby out with the bath water,” and if this re-cent turning of the tide isn’t ultimately going to leave this highly respected organization “high and dry” — empty of the good fortune, good art and good feeling it has historically generated.

Beth Henderson of Belfast is an artist. She volunteered at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art and served on the board of Waterfall Arts.

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