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YU, new art and the transparency issue

UPDATE: Jeff Jahn, who has followed the fortunes of YU from its beginnings, has kicked in with his own take at PORT. He argues that YU has “a general art world sophistication several tiers above” some earlier attempts at a nationally linked contemporary arts center, but also that it is severely harmed by its lack of a community board — its three-member board is also its three-member staff. Row made the same point in his Oregonian story, and it’s worth stressing: an independent, unpaid board is essential. ALSO: Some excellent points from Barry Johnson of Arts Dispatch in the comments below this post. Be sure to give ’em a look. Of note: Is YU hamstrung by its main donor’s restrictions?

By Bob Hicks

The Oregonian’s D.K. Row set off a micro-explosion with his front-page story in this morning’s paper about the cloudy picture at YU Contemporary Art Center, the fledgling nonprofit in the inner east side’s old Yale Union Laundry Building. Central to the issues that Row called into question: the center’s three principal figures (four if you count the building’s owner, who is divorced from one of the founders) have repeatedly sidestepped questions about the organization’s finances and structure.

D.K. is taking a bit of a beating in the online version’s comments thread, with people accusing him of making something out of nothing or, worse, engaging in some sort of hatchet job in an effort to kill off a good idea. Yet there’s very little in the story that I haven’t heard a lot of arts people saying privately for months. Few people think there’s anything nefarious going on. A lot of people wonder whether the founders aren’t in over their heads, and question both how much money this project is going to cost (the building will be very expensive to operate) and where the money’s coming from. I’ve also heard more than a few people ask the exact question that is central to Row’s story: Why won’t the people at YU just say what the financial situation is? D.K. didn’t invent these questions. He simply had the impertinence to ask them in public.

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