Prompted by anticipated philosophical changes at the deficit-ridden Huntington Beach Art Center, curator Tyler Stallings will leave the center to take a similar post at the Laguna Art Museum, whose board unanimously approved his appointment this week.
"I think we're getting the best curator in California," Laguna museum director Bolton Colburn said Wednesday. "He has approached some subjects and themes and dealt with individual artists in a way no one else has before."
Stallings, 34, plans to leave the Huntington Beach center, here he has worked since 1995, in early June to work part time at the Laguna museum, he said Wednesday. He will go full time Sept. 1. His first show for Laguna, slated for the summer of 2000, will focus on surf culture. Janet Blake is the museum's assistant curator.
Stallings will be the Laguna museum's first chief curator since it regained autonomy in 1997 after nine months as a satellite of the Orange County Museum of Art. OCMA was formed through a merger of the former Newport Harbor Art Museum and the Laguna museum.
Ron Hagan, community services director for Huntington Beach, said Stallings will be replaced.
Although "thrilled" about the new job--which is a step up, from community center to museum--Stallings said his move was motivated only by expected changes at the center.
The Huntington Beach City Council is expected to vote next month on a cost-saving reorganization plan for the 5-year-old center, which is running a $306,000 deficit.
Most of the shortfall stems from $250,000 owed in construction costs, but many former donors are now reluctant to support a venue that they believe exhibits too much of the contemporary art that has earned it national as well as local recognition.
They want more traditional art shown at the center, and the reorganization plan, drafted by city cultural services manager Michael Mudd, would give them and other interested community members a say in the future of its programs, all of which propelled Stallings' decision.
"The vision's going to change," he said, asserting that Mudd and many former donors "are not interested in cutting-edge contemporary art at all" or in a broad vision that embraces national as well as local and regional artistic developments.
Stallings' opinion is shared by a 15-member support board that has broken off from the center because of Stallings' resignation, its chairman, Shelley M. Liberto, said Thursday. The nonprofit board, dedicated to promoting contemporary art, will become an independent group supporting exhibitions throughout Southern California.
Stallings' departure "is a terminal blow to our ability to continue to work with city officials to do contemporary art programming at the center," Liberto said.
Mudd, who would run the reorganized center, said he has no intention of eliminating contemporary art shows or narrowing the center's scope but supports a greater programming balance. Some supporters, he said, "want less confrontational work that deals with social and political issues."
Stallings organized exhibits at the center that examined racial, gender and sexual issues as well as curating shows about such aspects of pop culture as skateboarding and UFOs. He also staged an annual, nonjuried exhibit that was open to all local artists.
Colburn cited that exhibit, unusual for its "no filter" selection process, as an example of Stallings' creative touch. "It's one way he's taken an old idea and made it better while involving the community in a new way."
"When you deal with contemporary art," Colburn added, "you can't help but deal with political and social issues. It happens to be the content contemporary artists [explore] in their work. Tyler has not done anything different from what we've done here."
Stallings said he plans to continue curating a mix of contemporary art and pop culture exhibits at the Laguna museum. He said he will earn the same salary of $39,000 he is paid at the center.
A Huntington Beach resident, he worked as a curatorial assistant at the Municipal Art Gallery in Los Angeles' Barnsdall Park and for the city's public art program before coming to the center. He was hired there as education coordinator.
He earned undergraduate and graduate fine arts degrees from the Atlanta College of Art and the California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita.
The art center's proposed reorganization also would trim its annual budget from $350,000 to $280,000, and in a related action, founding director Naida Osline has been transferred to run special events for the city. Osline, who will begin the new job in mid-May, will be replaced if funding becomes available, Hagan said.