WAA…..M? It’s not a museum, apparently

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

The Woodstock Artist Association and Museum isn’t really a museum at all. It turns out that an application for such status that was on the verge of being approved by the state 13 years ago was never finalized, and is now obsolete. Furthermore, members of what has long been the Woodstock Artists Association, Inc. voted overwhelmingly against being a chartered museum at a special membership meeting on August 11.

The annual general membership meeting for the organization, which celebrates its centennial next year, is set to take place at 10 a.m. Sunday, August 26, along with board elections.

The August 11 meeting was the extension of a special meeting requested by a number of WAA members in April, and held on June 10. Then, the main points of contention included evolved ways of jurying member exhibitions now based more on viewing digital JPEGs rather than actual works, which many art association artists felt was working against the integrity of their creations; the diminishing number of exhibition opportunities for members, and staff involvement in exhibition planning and jurying.

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Contention was in their air from the gathering’s starting moments in the WAAM Towbin Wing, which houses curated exhibitions of the organization’s impressive, museum-quality collection of Woodstock art. Board president Danny Rubenstein suggested a two minute maximum for speakers; long-term artist member Alan McKnight countered with a request for three minutes. 

Rubenstein noted that the day’s crowd of 10 board members and approximately three dozen WAA members was smaller than the June 10 gathering. He also pointed out that any motions put up by the membership had to be tied to the WAA bylaws and the meeting’s published agenda. 

McKnight presented a number of motions for discussion. Rubenstein pointed out that it was the board’s new policy that staff not jury any members’ exhibitions, or be present whenever such jurying take place. All agreed that there would be no repeat of instances last year when staff juried several shows.

Contention arose as to whether the association’s staff, all of them gallery professionals, should be allowed to even sit in on WAAM’s exhibition committee meetings, or have any say on what shows in any but the organization’s Towbin Wing and dedicated Youth Exhibition  galleries. Some asserted that committee members knew nothing of the bylaws; Rubenstein pointed out how the bylaws were largely written back when WAA was an all-volunteer organization, as well as pointing to the difficulty of finding jurors for exhibitions.

The back and forth increased. Pat Horner, a former exhibition committee head, questioned the board of director’s holding meetings in private homes. Rubenstein answered that all were open to members, and held away from the artists associations galleries so they could stay open normal hours.

It was suggested, several times, that the organization look into reviewing and possibly rewriting its bylaws.

McKnight put forth a motion against staff involvement in jurying; it passed a membership vote with only one opposing vote.

Rich Pantell introduced the idea of the museum charter in a motion asking that any further work towards membership status for the artists organization be suspended until the entire membership could hear “benefits or not,” and then vote. He and others noted that a 2005 name change from WAA to WAAM, including the museum moniker, was not valid since there was no quorum present when the name change occurred, and membership ultimately voted against seeking museum status in 2007.

It was further noted that the museum chartering initiative was abandoned in recent years. Rubenstein and board counsel Barbara Klippert said there was uncertainty as to whether the state board of education, which charters museums, would allow a merger of the original Woodstock Artists Association and its museum element. Both added that the state had expressed unlimited leniency towards the organization over the past twelve years.

Several people asked why the organization continued to call itself WAAM — on its signage, website and fundraising endeavors — when it wasn’t legal. Rubenstein said that once the board could get some facts from the state on its chartering options for the Woodstock Artists Association and its collection, which has been maintained according to strict museum standards, there would be a series of “town meetings” and a final vote of all members before any further moves were made.

The museum moniker was first added to the WAA name in 2005, and then questioned during an historically contentious general membership meeting that August that saw tears, as well as the resignation of then-board president Holly Gersh.

Current board member Leonard Levitan, who took over the organization’s board at that August, 2005 members meeting, repeatedly asked to address what he knew of the museum chartering application history at Saturday’s meeting, but was shouted down by members.

“Not yet,” Rubenstein added, referring to the coming general members meeting and board vote set for August 26, as well as the promised “town meetings” on the membership’s views regarding a museum charter.

Several people expressed surprise that WAA was actually not a museum, and hence a formally-recognized WAAM. Others spoke about how proud they’d been to show in a museum.

McKnight added a new motion that would codify more and better benefits for WAA members. When Rubenstein and others noted that the organization’s tax exempt status could not accommodate such a thing, several members asked why they should remain tax exempt. Talk bounced back and forth about donors, costs, and the benefits of tax exemption versus a full membership gallery, which some characterized as an artists’ coop. 

Rubenstein refused to bring McKnight’s member benefits’ motion to a vote, saying it wasn’t in the organization’s best interest. McKnight accused the board of directors of being “anti-artist.”

Further motions by McKnight addressed the board’s use of confidentiality at many of its meetings, as well as those of the organization’s committees; as well as a board policy to urge board members to “give or get” $1500 a year, which members talked about being “onerous” for artists.

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Rubenstein spoke about better teaching everyone on the board and committees how to utilize executive sessions during meetings whenever sensitive personnel matters arose, as well as the “give and get” idea being merely a suggestion designed to maintain a certain level of commitment from all WAA board members.

“We don’t have a give, get or get off policy,” Rubenstein added just before the membership voted to get rid of the policy.

Horner read a statement after the adjournment of the meeting seeking “a return to a time when the board acted in the best interests of the artists.”

Later, Rubenstein noted that the board was working on its slate of candidates for the upcoming August 26 meeting. Nominations for the ballot of five were to be returned by August 6; the board director added that he was hoping to announce who would be voted on in an announcement this Friday, August 17.