The trustees of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture owe Spokane an explanation for the firing of Forrest Rodgers as museum director.
At a special board meeting held Wednesday, Chairwoman Chris Schnug drew a line in the sand with a Caterpillar, absolutely refusing to tell an audience filled with museum supporters why Rodgers was terminated after less than one year on the job. Many in attendance would have walked out had they not been encouraged to stay and speak their piece.
Speak they did, some in anger, some in tones that suggested they were looking for an avenue toward reconciliation despite the board’s obstinacy.
The premise of the meeting was to lay out the magnitude of the financial obstacles ahead as the state’s support shrinks to the minimum necessary to maintain the archives of the Eastern Washington Historical Society within the museum. At the end of June 2013, even that is not assured.
Memberships, admissions and contributions from lovers of the arts cannot pick up the slack, at least not immediately. One of Rodgers’ charges was to ramp up efforts to raise more private sector money and explore the potential advantages of building alliances with other arts organizations locally and statewide.
He did similar work in Bend, Ore., where he headed the High Desert Museum, as well as foundations at Central Washington University and Oregon State University.
No coordinated fundraising campaign was yet under way at the MAC. Was that the reason Rodgers was fired?
We don’t know.
Had he mismanaged what resources there are? What could have justified what amounts to a summary execution by the board’s executive committee without consulting the full board?
We don’t know.
Schnug says it’s a personnel matter the board legally cannot discuss. Rodgers has repeatedly said he wants a public explanation. In fact, he wants a personal explanation.
He, we, deserve one, and the claim there is a legal defense for the board’s silence is wrong. The decision on privacy is up to Rodgers.
Wednesday’s audience was not buying it, nor should they. And if board members do not feel like explaining themselves to museum supporters, they may have to explain themselves in court, where Rodgers’ attorneys could file a tort claim.
Nobody wants to go there, least of all Rodgers, who just wants his job back.
The board of the museum’s foundation, a separate organization, has voted unanimously in support of Rodgers’ reinstatement. He also has the backing of the museum’s American Indian Cultural Council.
The foundation board has suggested the American Association of Museums be asked to mediate the dispute. It need not come to that if those involved will simply unpaint themselves out of their respective corners.
The MAC desperately needs the good will of everyone in the artistic community, the Native American community and the community as a whole to go forward as a viable, vibrant institution. Without that unity, it will be very difficult to overcome the challenges ahead.