It’s an art ‘museum’ in name only | As I See It

The new IMA building.

By Betsy Blinks

Special to the Journal

Addressing my concerns today is vital to the well-being of the arts community here on the island.

These concerns regard actions taken, or rather mistaken, by the director and board of the new “museum.” These actions potentially have far reaching negative effects for all of us. There may be a way that we can all work together to achieve a greater success.

My concerns involve: transparency and appropriate levels of responsibility to donors and the general public in fundraising, tax status, mission statement, strategic planning, capital campaigning, architecture that cannot support the stated mission and equality of representation for local artists.

Many years of internal dispute have only yielded a dubiously directed “arts” organization that is failing to engender confidence. This seems due to a cascade of active misdirection or unknowing attempts at rationalizing in calling themselves a “museum.”

Many Seattle art galleries and museum professionals think that we appear uneducated or just uncaring about what the mission is here. Some of this comes as the result of hearing that Mimi Gates (arguably the reason that SAM is what it is today) laughed and walked out after saying no to the funding appeal by the new organization when she last visited. Mimi Gates has the power to influence all the major donors in our area and this episode is having repercussions already.

IMA is not creating more of an arts destination. They are endangering any reputation that we have already spent years and money to develop.

The current building cannot support the stated mission, actually endangering the art and making it difficult to attract artists and other institutions. They cannot assure that their work will be without damage.

When accompanied by their chosen decision to sell art retail, they have destroyed many funding options that are often the lifeblood of a nonprofit. To choose that restriction and then say they “must” sell to remain solvent is just backward.

Two weeks after their “grand” opening, a docent tells me they were directed to inform the public that their plan to sell art from the walls is “only for the short term” until they made enough money to buy their own collection.

The organization announced, at almost the same time, that their long-term plan does not include investment in their own collections. How can we educate your young people about the definition of a museum when they are given two different answers to the same question?

I inquire, expressing interest in a particular piece, and am told that I will be “referred to the artist” for the sale. Any payment will not be accounted for by the organization, but declared as income by the artist. They are expected to make a 30 percent commission payment to the organization. Income from sales is thus converted into a donation. Individual artists are required to pay in order to appear on the organization’s “registry.”

This is not usual for either galleries or museums.

The organization changed their 10-year-old mission, notably after the building was already completed and the money spent. Sometime after Nov. 14, 2014, their mission statement no longer claimed they were going to seek to become an accredited museum. A promotion to sell art followed. Therefore accreditation is no longer possible. They are currently functioning as an art gallery or art center.

I have spent years as a fundraiser (and donor) locally and internationally. Much of it involved non-profits and I know that there is the money and passionate interest on these islands to support a new arts center, new gallery or new art museum.

We are a vibrant over-educated bunch out here and can be very good at working together. This does require a sound foundation and agreement of direction. Let’s insist that this new organization reflect the integrity of our community.

— Editor’s note: A 25-year San Juan Island resident, with family ties the date back to the 1930s, Betsy Blinks received training in museum administration, education, and exhibits at the UW Masters Program in Museum Studies, the University of Victoria and the Australian Museum in Sydney.