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Bronx Arts Museum Loses 6 Board Members in a Week

By Eddie Small | August 29, 2016 5:18pm
 The chairwoman and vice chairwoman at the Bronx Museum of the Arts have both stepped down from their positions.
The chairwoman and vice chairwoman at the Bronx Museum of the Arts have both stepped down from their positions.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

CONCOURSE — Six board members at the Bronx Museum of the Arts have resigned from their positions, with two of them citing concerns about an art exchange program with Cuba, according to people familiar with the situation.

Board Chairwoman Laura Blanco and Vice Chairwoman Mary Beth Mandanas both stepped down from their posts last week, according to museum spokeswoman Sara Griffin.

Neither woman responded to requests for comment, but Blanco wrote in a memo attached to her resignation letter that she was upset about the museum's initiative to exchange artwork with the National Museum of Fine Arts in Cuba and about its plan to present a copy of the José Martí statue in Central Park to the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana, according to the New York Times.

Mandanas told the Times she was mainly concerned with corporate governance and finances at the museum.

Board members Jonathan Plotkin, Jeanna Hussey, Isabella Hutchinson and Jason Silverman resigned from their positions last week as well, but the museum does not believe the other four members left because they shared Blanco's and Mandanas' concerns, according to Griffin.

"In no way is the museum experiencing any mass exodus of trustees in solidarity with Laura and Mary Beth," she said. "To the contrary, the board is very happy with [Executive Director] Holly [Block]’s administration of the museum, though they are taking quite seriously the concerns that have been expressed."

The art exchange between the Bronx Museum and Cuba is called Wild Noise and launched last year. The first part was an exhibition of works from the Bronx Museum that went on display at Cuba's National Museum of Fine Arts.

However, Blanco said that fundraising for the project must stop "immediately," as there is "no reasonable likelihood" that Cuba's museum would be sending art to The Bronx anytime soon due to fears that it will be seized, according to the Times.

Griffin maintained that the museum was continuing to work on bringing art from Cuba to The Bronx and that the issue of keeping the pieces safe from seizure was being addressed by the American and Cuban governments.

"If we have to postpone opening of Wild Noise in The Bronx, we will, but the museum remains committed to the partnership," she said.

"No one believed that we would be able to successfully mount the exhibition of works from the Bronx Museum in Cuba last year," she continued, "but we persevered and made it happen."

Blanco was also concerned about the $2.5 million effort to present a copy of Central Park's José Martí statue to Cuba, noting in her memo that the museum's yearly budget was $3.2 million and that "the life of José Martí will have little or no relevance to the local community," the Times reported.

Griffin stressed that the fundraising efforts behind presenting the statue to Cuba were completely separate from the museum's operating budget, so it was not relevant to compare to two amounts.

"The museum has minimal financial exposure on this project," she said, "so any comparison to the museum’s operating budget has no relevance."