September 11, 2012
Change remains a constant at Monterey History and Art Association's Museum of Monterey, 14 months after its grand reopening. One of the people credited with the museum’s creative revitalization, Executive Director Lisa Coscino, is expected to be replaced; her staff are gone or will be soon. Current board president Mark Baer, who describes himself as a video and community artist, says he will take over her position pro bono and current Monterey History and Art Association Treasurer Christine Sinnott says she will become president of the board.
"There are three phases," Sinnott says. "The first was to get the place back open. Last year's [phase] was to get creative. That was very successful under Lisa. She was very good. The third is sustainability."
That means, she says, spending less money and bringing more in: "We don't want to just depend on donors."
The MHAA board, which oversees the museum, meets Wednesday, Sept. 12, with members to discuss the changes and a "sustainable" future. In October or November, the board is expected to present their plans, along with an audit, to the Monterey City Council, which has ultimate oversight of the city-owned museum.
"I'm hoping to see a very clear explanation of their way forward and how they plan to stabilize their financial situation," says Monterey City Manager Fred Meurer. "And their revenue can't be based on grants they're hoping to obtain. The grants they've obtained have not been able to close their deficits of the last few years."
Coscino wrote a letter to the membership and the press in which she recounts the accomplishments under her leadership, including 17 exhibitions, partnerships, planned exhibits, grants and fundraising, and increased attendance.
"The [museum leadership] keeps telling everybody they're going to keep doing what I did," Coscino says. "Why don't they want to do it with me?"
Sinnott and Baer say Coscino's asking salary was too high, and add they talked about keeping her as a guest curator. Coscino counters that they didn't try to negotiate salary with her and there was nothing in writing about guest curating. She says she wants to finish the work she started, but is wary from the recent upheavals. She’s far from the only one.
"[The museum] is a very valuable piece of city property, sitting at the crossroads of where millions of people pass by each year," Meurer says. "They need to find a way of capitalizing on [that] to ensure their museum concepts are successful. This is not a new problem for [MHAA]."
At 6:45pm Tuesday, Coscino e-blasted a letter to "members and friends" chronicling highlights of her stint at the top helm of the museum, just a day before her imminent removal from her leadership post. It is reprinted here:
*A Year in Review Dear Members and Friends,
It is with a heavy heart that I write this to you.
As we prepare for our annual meeting on Wednesday I want to give you some examples of our accomplishments this past year. There are many, and we have so much to be proud of; as I write this, I am amazed at them all.
On June 4, 2011, after being closed to the public for 18 months, the Monterey Maritime and History Museum reopened as the Museum of Monterey (MoM) at Stanton Center. Since then we have opened 17 exhibitions to great critical and community acclaim! Last October, we opened the second floor galleries which host the Museum's permanent collection as well as our historical and cultural exhibits. As recent as 2 weeks ago we opened the "Ship Shop" which houses portions of our Maritime and Allen Knight Collections.
Besides opening exhibitions at MoM, the MHAA has participated in other important cultural events in the city such as Christmas in the Adobes, Art in the Adobes, Whalefest, the Sloat Landing Ceremony, and La Merienda. These events showcased our beautiful historic properties as well as our commitment to history.
Our Los Amigos membership group has been very active this year not only in the planning and execution of La Merienda, but also by sponsoring several other fundraisers for MHAA/MoM such as the Burns Supper, Cinco de Mayo Dinner and Filoli Garden Tour.
MoM at the Stanton Center has hosted several wonderful film festivals this past year. Our 1967 Film Series with the Monterey Film Commission will continue through January 2013. We were a venue for the Big Sur International Short Film Series hosted by Henry Miller Library, the Monterey Bay Film Festival and will host the Blue Ocean Film Festival later this month. We have screened many interesting documentaries, hosted many groups and re-activated the theater as a viable and exciting local film venue.
We have also created dynamic programming that supports our amazing exhibitions. During the course of the "Flows to Bay" exhibition we hosted dozens of lectures, presentations and films about ocean conservation, health, and management. Actor and art collector Cheech Marin has visited twice to inspire and educate on art, history, and assimilation. And it would be impossible to forget our visit from artist and lead singer of the hit band, Incubus, Brandon Boyd: the line of people around the building, folks traveling from as far away as Nevada, Los Angeles and San Diego. We have hosted book signings, discussed art and activism, listened to great live music, hosted the Boys and Girls Clubs, Lighthouse Keepers and many other groups who had an interest in history.
The local press has been consistently supportive of our efforts. The Hometown Bulletin, Monterey County Weekly and The Herald have all championed our efforts. Last count I made, we had been mentioned in the papers at least 150 times! Thanks to our programming, we also made it into Huffington Post and SF Examiner. Thank you, Walter, Edie, and Mac.
The success of our current exhibition, "Music, Love and Flowers" has not gone unnoticed. We were approached by the Grammy Museum to take the show to their venue in LA adjacent to the Staples Center. The exhibition has also been brought in front of Levis to take on a major sponsorship role. I have been contacted by academics as far away as Florence, Italy to use the show for research.
This year we regrouped and refocused and brought education into the forefront of MoM's mission. Our "Kid's Create" programs have made learning history a participatory experience and a lot of fun. The Ship Shop is our new interactive education and research station that gives children and adults an opportunity to master the art of strategy and model building.
Besides our accomplishments this year we have positioned ourselves for the future. Upcoming exhibitions and projects include: a major collaboration with the Henry Miller Library and Archives, a study of the Ohlone Rumsien culture, a 3-5 year rotating exhibition discussing 50 years of Sicilian and fishing history, a multi media and participatory exhibition of Fort Ord, a world wide traveling media exhibit focused on the whale as ambassador to the sea, and a fun and educational historic show on the long and rich legacy of the Monterey Fire Department. Fundraising and grant writing for these projects have already begun.
All of this is a long way of saying that we have brought back vibrancy, viability and life to MHAA, MoM, its' properties and, in some small but meaningful part, the Monterey County community at large. We have a lot to be grateful for and many people to thank.
First I would like to thank the MHAA/MoM staff, in particular the Curatorial team which has produced these amazing exhibitions and programs and has aided in all the educational and historical activities at Casa Serrano, the Library and beyond. Cristiano Colantoni, Rachel Swarthout and Addison Moore have proven to be wise beyond their years, creative, intelligent, flexible and absolutely invaluable.
I would also like to thank the many people who inspired and helped me research and create this past year. The Kubernicks, Dianna Cohen, Joel Selvin, Ken Lopez, Robert Williams, Bolton Colburn, Jim Fowler, Enid Baxter Blader, the McClearys, Austin Long, Rosemary Reeve, Stephanie Shepherd, Anita Hilton, Kate Miller, Bob Enea, Magnus Toren and Keely Richter and all the interns.
After an incredible year of momentum, the Board has decided to make some interesting changes. As of September 14th they will take over the management of MHAA and MoM and I will no longer be Director. I feel this decision compromises our past hard work as well as our future endeavors, and it saddens me greatly. The team that delivered the incredible programming, exhibitions and events of the last year and that is responsible for the press, projects and grants for the future will all be gone. The Curator of Collections, Cristiano Colantoni, was let go last month due to a lack of funding; Preparator / Facilities Manager, Addison Moore, has resigned and so has MHAA Registrar, Rachel Swarthout, whose last day will be September 21st. Several lenders to "Music, Love and Flowers" have requested the return of their items due to this decision. Several future projects have been pulled.
In the immortal words of Heraclitus, "There is nothing permanent except change." It has been an exciting, challenging year for me professionally and personally. I am filled with gratitude for the opportunities this year has provided. The MHAA/MoM family and community has been a source of joy and inspiration. I have learned much and I have gained insight, knowledge and wisdom. I hope you have enjoyed the offerings we have made this year and I hope you continue to enjoy the projects we have started. Thank you for your confidence, support and encouragement. Thank you for your critiques and constructive criticism.
The lessons of the 60's have not been lost on me. PEACE. LOVE. MUSIC. FLOWERS.
I hope we see each other again soon.
Until then, lots of love. Lisa Coscino, Executive Director MHAA/MoM*