LOGAN SQUARE — Prominent Logan Square developer Mark Fishman is stepping down from the board of the I AM Logan Square community arts council, the board's president announced Monday.
The moves follows a controversial incident this summer when an art exhibit critical of Fishman's development firm was pulled from the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. The exhibit was being displayed in a donated space at a Fishman property.
Officials with the June arts show said at the time that a Fishman representative demanded artist Amie Sell's exhibit be pulled.
Geary Yonker announced Fishman’s retirement Monday, saying that Fishman has been considering stepping down for the last nine months and first mentioned his decision to the board in January.
But removal of Sell's piece hinted at a divide between Fishman and I AM Logan Square's 7-member board.
I AM Logan Square “refused to take it down,” Yonker said, but Fishman, who served as I AM Logan Square's treasurer, owned the building and the space was being donated for use in the festival.
Sell claimed "censorship" of her work after the unilateral decision from Fishman’s group and followed up her conversation series on gentrification with a petition in August urging that Fishman be removed from the board.
Sell’s petition was addressed directly to Yonker, demanding that “I AM Logan Square begin to repair its reputation with Logan Square by immediately removing Mark Fishman, Treasurer, from its board” because “there is growing vocal discontent about Mark Fishman’s control and usage of the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival (MAAF) as a tool to increase his substantial development and real estate holdings."
The non-binding petition had received little more than half of its signatures by October, but according to Yonker, Fishman will step down anyway. Fishman could not be reached for comment.
“The Board of Directors of I AM Logan Square is already speaking with other leaders in the community about taking Mr. Fishman’s place on the board. We anticipate announcing a new board member in the coming weeks,” he wrote. “We would like to thank the members of our community that have shown such great interest in the construction of our board of directors and now ask for their support as the organization enters this new era.”
According to Yonker, Fishman's retirement represents a success for I AM Logan Square — it shows the group is financially solvent.
"Not to take away from the people that signed the petition but Mark left the [organization] because we proved that we could be self-sufficient. Proving that we could do this on our own was my main goal when I joined the board in 2012," Yonker said. "The success of MAAF made it so the organization would not have to depend on wealthy benefactors."
The website for M. Fishman and Co. lists 22 properties owned by Fishman in Logan Square, but Sell and local anti-gentrification group Somos Logan Square put the actual number at 52 properties in Logan Square, including around 1,100 rental units. That number includes the renovated Logan Theater, a neighborhood gem that was allocated $1 million in Tax Increment Financing funds meant to "partially reimburse the building’s owner" in 2013.
“The removal of Fishman is a step in the right direction for an organization that represents Logan Square with the powerful 'I AM' presence that their name invokes,” Sell said Monday via email.
“I would also like to see [I AM Logan Square] act as a proper ... grant-receiving, arts non-profit, starting by letting the public know who is on the board and curating art at IALS,” she added. “Hiring a local, seasoned arts producer who can bring diversity and allow for public/community discourse would be another good start.”
Fishman was an “integral factor” in I AM Logan Square’s founding and “his contributions will be sorely missed,” according to the group’s official statement.
“Mark Fishman can now leave the organization confident in knowing that his investment in the community has helped create an independent and self-sustaining organization. We sincerely thank him for his philanthropy and hope that we can have his support in the future as a sponsor of the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival and other projects.”
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