Most of the 19 board members of the Municipal Art Gallery Associates who had threatened to resign by Monday in a dispute over the gallery's management by the city's Cultural Affairs Department have returned to the fold. Their action came as a result of the intervention of Mayor Tom Bradley and general manager Fred Croton's apparent reassessment of his position.
The conflict centered around longtime Barnsdall Park gallery director Josine Ianco-Starrels, whose responsibilities and work location had been altered by Croton last spring. The dispute simmered throughout the summer and came to a head last month. In their Sept. 6 resignation letter to Bradley, the associates cited "our growing loss of confidence" in Croton's management.
The turnaround came Monday evening at board President Sondra Smalley's Holmby Hills home hours before the resignations would have gone into effect. On Thursday, several board members discussed the situation with Croton at the regular Cultural Affairs Commission meeting. On Sept. 20, in a memo circulated department-wide, Croton acknowledged that "the recent turmoil at the Municipal Art Gallery has embarrassed the city, and it is our duty to put it behind us."
Associates' Chairman Marc Levin credited Bradley with changing their minds and Croton's. "Quite unanimously, as to everyone present last night," Levin said on Tuesday, "the board members expressed their gratitude to Mayor Bradley for his intervening in the situation, for we feel if he had not chosen to intervene, progress would not have been made."
However, Bradley was unable to sway Bullock's to come back, too. After the resignation letter, the department store chain withdrew its support of the gallery's annual "Magical Mystery Tour and Ball," support that would have amounted to more than $100,000. In a letter to Bullock's Sept. 18, Bradley said he was very disappointed by the store's action, adding that "a significant change has been accomplished in the operating framework for the citywide visual-arts program, including the Municipal Art Gallery." He added, in words Croton later repeated, that there is "no reason why we cannot put the turmoil at the gallery behind us."
Jack McCarley, Bullock's vice president for public affairs, replied, "Given the loss of crucial production time, we and the associates cannot expect to bring off the event in 1985 without seriously compromising our mutual objectives and standards." He said Bullock's would be "most receptive to renewing our support of the associates in 1986."
The dispute began when Croton assigned Ianco-Starrels to City Hall and put her in charge of the city's visual-arts programming. She maintained that the move diluted her gallery responsibilities. A week later after the associates protested her reassignment, she was allowed to report to the gallery Mondays and Tuesdays and assigned to City Hall Wednesdays and Thursdays. Her fifth day is accounted for by gallery activities evenings and on Saturdays. (Ianco-Starrels also compiles the "Art News" column for The Times' Sunday Calendar.)
After Ianco-Starrels recuperated from a broken leg and returned to work, she found that the gallery was being run by a recently hired coordinator, Maria d'Alcuaz.
On Sept. 16, the mayor wrote Levin: "An arrangement has been worked out which will permit Ms. Starrels to use the Municipal Gallery at Barnsdall Park as her 'flagship' while she continues to exercise her citywide supervisory responsibilities. She is agreeable to this arrangement."
Four days later Croton issued his memo which began: "Effective immediately Josine Ianco-Starrels, the citywide art coordinator, will be stationed in the Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park.
"She will continue to supervise and direct activities at all city galleries including the Municipal Art Gallery. . . .
"All art curators will continue to report to her," Croton continued, "which means that exhibitions, proposed by art curators, for example, must have her prior written approval before they may be mounted."
He added that while "it is desirable to have the greatest degree of individual freedom . . . without organization, and the hierarchical relationships it implies, many artistic endeavors would not be possible whether we are talking about building and decorating a cathedral or simply mounting an exhibition."
Croton could not be reached for comment.
Croton's personnel policies and practices are currently under investigation by the city's Personnel Department. The City Council asked for the investigation after the March 18 dismissal of art coordinator Rod Sakai, an eight-year city employee who was terminated after his 240-day upgraded temporary appointment was about to run out.
Meanwhile, Levin said the associates would keep a close watch on the gallery situation. "A number of people (associates) expressed concern and caution about what's taking place."