Woodstock Artists Association & Museum’s recalcitrant members voice concerns

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

For decades, Woodstock Artists Association & Museum member meetings have alternated between dull and uncontentious and fiery emotionality. But they’ve always been open to press coverage.

This past Sunday, we visited the WAAM galleries to see how preparations were going for this coming Saturday’s June 16 opening for Far & Wide, the art institution’s now-established survey show each summer, newly opened up on a national basis as the museum’s reputation has started to take off outside the Hudson Valley.

We’d also heard there was likely to be heat at the members’ meeting, stoked by concerns that WAAM was focusing too much outside of Woodstock proper these days. And insisting that artists submit their work via digital jpegs instead of physical slides or actual art works.

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We were turned away at the galleries’ locked doors.

“When Joan Clancy advised that the press had arrived, there was a discussion with the membership if the press should be permitted to enter. The membership discussed the matter and their decision was to exclude the press,” WAAM board president Danny Rubenstein later wrote.

Speaking to artist association members as they exited the meeting two and a half hours after its start, we heard about the matters under discussion, as well as descriptions of teary shouting matches, much incrimination, and a sense by a number of professional artists that the dissension was coming from artists who felt their membership fees entitled them “to a place on the wall,” as several people told us on request that their names be kept anonymous.

“Yesterday’s full house meeting at the Woodstock Artists’ Association was called by members who presented a list of concerns to the Board of Directors about the direction the association has headed under its current administration. Pro Bono Counsel contended that binding resolutions cannot be made at a membership meeting, so the motions became suggestions and were non-binding, but were voted upon. Most were passed by a large majority,” noted Llyn Towner of the meeting, for which she and Alan McKnight were listed as ‘spokespersons for the group of Woodstock Artists’ Association (WAA) members who requested a Special Member Meeting.’

“The Board and the Chair of the Exhibition Committee retained the right to accept or reject these motions. Another meeting to address further concerns will be scheduled as soon as possible. Among the items scheduled for discussion is the Museum Charter and the issue of membership approval as required by NY NPC law…Sorry you were denied admission. Please accept this invitation to attend Part 2.”

Towner added that “about 70” were in attendance in the WAAM Towbin Wing.

“I thought it was a constructive meeting. The membership had an opportunity to comment on a broad range of issues. It was a lively discussion, and at times a heated discussion, on many important points,” Rubenstein added in his email from later on Sunday. “The WAA Board and Exhibition Committee listened carefully and will give serious consideration to the proposals that came out of the meeting.”

Woodstock Artist Association & Museum Executive Director Janice La Motta wrote in a separate email that, “It had been requested by the small group of members who asked for the meeting that staff not be in attendance. We obliged in consideration of their request, so unfortunately, I was not at the meeting. The voice of our membership is important to us and is always taken into consideration as we plan our programming and address the ways to continue to grow WAAM as a healthy and sustainable organization.”

At the center of things seem to be contentiousness between the nearly-century old organization’s dual purposes as a membership organization and museum dedicated to Woodstock’s still-evolving role as a cultural center, as well as underlying shifts in the entire art world.

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