SAN DIEGO — The board of trustees of the heavily indebted San Diego Art Center accepted the resignation of its director, Sebastian J. (Lefty) Adler Tuesday, and announced that the center will suspend all operations Sept. 1.
The action occurred eight weeks after the nascent contemporary art museum announced that it was sharply curtailing operations in its temporary spaces.
Adler, a former director of the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art around whose artistic vision the center was conceived, submitted his resignation, effective Aug. 31, in a terse letter to Danah Fayman, the art center's founder. The letter was read at a morning meeting of the center's board of trustees. In it, Adler also resigned as a trustee.
Adler's resignation was unexpected, center Chief Executive Officer L.J. Cella said. The board did not discuss a replacement. Instead, members agreed to a scheduled proposal by Cella to suspend all operations as of Sept. 1 and operate as a volunteer board of trustees.
In June, the center, facing mounting debts, slashed its operations, reducing the 13-member staff to three. The salaries for the remaining workers, including Adler, were cut, although Cella did not say how much.
Fayman, who is board president, said the loss of Adler was not the center's death knell. "Lefty was certainly a big asset," Fayman said. "I think it's better to conserve our funds until we know what's going to happen," rather than seek a replacement.
Fayman and the trustees have worked with Centre City Development Corp. since 1983, developing a plan to remodel the Balboa Theater as a modern art museum. It is at 4th Avenue and E Street, adjacent to Horton Plaza.
The earliest plans called for the renovated Balboa to open in April, but a series of delays have pushed that date to 1989. Revised remodeling plans introduced last fall by the center have yet to be approved by the City Council, causing fund-raising efforts again to be put on hold.
Faced with $650,000 in debt, Art Center officials announced in June that they were closing the exhibition gallery and bookstore, which were temporarily using Horton Plaza storefronts.
Although the center took in $883,000 in public contributions over three years, the revenue was drastically short of the monthly payroll and other costs related to opening and maintaining the temporary space. Cella said the center owes contractors, bookstores and other creditors about $250,000; the rest is owed to trustees and financial institutions. Fayman has sunk more than $500,000 into the project. Adler, who gave no clue to why he resigned or his future plans, came to La Jolla after directing Houston's Museum of Contemporary Art. In 10 years, he changed the La Jolla museum from a regional institution to one with a national reputation for quality. However, he offended staff members and trustees with what they called his eccentricities and was fired in 1983.
Adler had planned the Art Center's first exhibitions. The first season would have emphasized contemporary design, the work of California artists, and Mexican art and architecture.
Adler did not return several calls to his home and office Tuesday.
Musician Steve Karo, who formed the Save Our Balboa society to fight the Art Center's plans for the theater, declined to speculate on how Adler's resignation would affect the tug of war for the Balboa.
The future of the Balboa is on hold pending completion of a study of the need for theaters downtown. A report is expected in October or November.