The woman who has overseen Spokane’s public art program for the past 15 years is returning to her studio.
Karen Mobley, who spent most of that time as head of the city’s arts department before it was dismantled last year and outsourced, decided to step down last Sunday as interim director of the nonprofit group that took over those responsibilities.
Mobley, 51, will continue to work part-time as the nonprofit agency’s program manager at least through the end of the year.
Brooke Kiener, the chairwoman of the Spokane Arts Fund, said Mobley made the decision to step down without any pressure from the board.
“I absolutely had faith in her ability to lead the organization, but I also support her choice to pursue other options,” Kiener said. “One of the legacies Karen leaves the city is a really well-respected and well-known public art program.”
Until late last year, the Spokane Arts Fund was the small nonprofit arm of the city’s Arts Commission. The fund has been transformed into an agency that essentially performs the functions of the city’s former department. It has a $160,000 budget provided by the city and several agencies and businesses with headquarters inside the offices of Visit Spokane.
The fund was revamped last year after Mayor David Condon followed through on former Mayor Mary Verner’s proposal to remove the arts department from city government.
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, a Spokane Arts Fund board member, said the group will soon start a search for a new director.
“Karen has been a valuable asset to the community,” Stuckart said. “I’m sad to see her not become the executive director.”
Mobley, a painter and poet, said she is stepping down to focus on her health and her art. She added that she wants to spend less time in an office and fundraising and more time working with artists and in her studio.
“It is important for (the Spokane Arts Fund) to have somebody who could go after it gangbusters,” she said. “The organization could benefit from somebody who is the person I was when I started 17 years ago.”
Mobley was a supporter of maintaining a city arts department, but she agreed to lead the transition and many arts leaders had hoped she would remain in charge. Mobley said Thursday that she’s happy with the progress of the new organization.
“I’ve laid the ground work for the next things to happen,” she said.
Mobley started as the city’s arts director in 1997. She previously led the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper, Wyo., and the University Art Gallery at New Mexico State University.
Kiener said it’s too early to say if the new agency will be an improvement.
“I’m hopeful that it will be every bit as good, if not better, than the old system,” she said.