Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007

Arts community reeling from Gateway shakeup

Project manager’s ouster leads to letter-writing campaign, resignation of board members

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The firing of the project manager of the Gateway-Georgia Avenue Revitalization Corporation and rumors about the candidates to replace him have left Silver Spring’s artist and business communities on both sides of the controversy seeking answers and resolution.

David Fogel, project manager for the GGARC for nearly five years, said he was given a letter from the organization about a month ago that notified him he would be on administrative leave through the end of September, and after that was ‘‘no longer going to be working for the organization,” he said.

The GGARC is a community development organization and offshoot of the Gateway Coalition that targets revitalization along Georgia Avenue.

Fogel said his duties there were to provide annual work plans on promoting south Silver Spring as an arts and entertainment district, fostering relationships with community groups and businesses and enhancing the ‘‘creative culture” of the area. He also ran the programming for the GGARC-managed Heliport Gallery.

Fogel would not comment on the reasons why he was fired, but the news was enough to cause a letter-writing campaign to Silver Spring, county and state officials and a call for a boycott of Alchemy, the store owned by Fogel’s rumored successor, Brenda Smoak.

‘‘The community’s reaction and groundswell of support has just been incredibly humbling,” Fogel said.

Two members of the board, President Gracie Baten and Dan Meijer, quit when the news of Fogel’s firing was announced. Baten, a founding member of the GGARC, said Tuesday she resigned because she did not agree with some of the recent decisions made by the organization’s executive committee. Baten had served nearly 10 years on the board.

‘‘I think [Fogel] did a great job in bringing the [Heliport] Gallery to the Silver Spring scene as an integral part of Silver Spring,” said Baten, who lives in Washington, D.C. ‘‘I think he was able to bring a lot of attention to the nonprofit. ... I really hated to see him not be a part of Gateway anymore.”

Members of the GGARC’s current board of directors said Smoak was never officially offered Fogel’s position. Smoak said she has resigned from the board to avoid further attacks, and said she was only interested in the job in the interim until a fulltime replacement for Fogel was found. The board had planned to announce the job opening to the public while Smoak ran the Heliport Gallery, she said.

Tom Block, a local artist who last week took the lead in organizing the letter-writing campaign and boycott of both Alchemy and activities at the Heliport Gallery, has since rescinded his support for the boycott. One of Block’s concerns was that Smoak’s position on the GGARC’s board of directors would be a conflict of interest if she took Fogel’s position.

Block, who said Fogel was ‘‘a national asset in the local community,” took the campaign on because he said Fogel’s firing seemed ‘‘dubious” and counterintuitive to the organization’s aims of working for the community.

Smoak has since removed herself from consideration for the job.

‘‘What was initiated was a smear campaign,” Smoak said. ‘‘I never had the job. ... I don’t know why this has been going on.”

Smoak said she had nothing to do with Fogel’s firing, and that she had planned to resign from the board to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest if she took the interim position.

Randolph Boehm, vice president of the organization’s board of directors, said the decision to fire Fogel was made by the executive director, Marc Loud, who told the board the organization ‘‘needed to make a change,” Boehm said. In an e-mail sent Monday, Loud directed all inquiries into the matter to Boehm.

‘‘There were some things going on that could’ve been done better,” Boehm said, such as reinvigorating south Silver Spring’s ArtWalk series. ‘‘Our work with the business community is perhaps not where it should be,” he added.

Boehm said the Heliport Gallery would probably remain unoccupied for about a month until a fulltime replacement for Fogel is found. He said the board hoped to expedite the process.

‘‘This is just going to deprive the community of gallery space,” Boehm said.

Both Smoak and Fogel said they were ready to move on. Fogel said he had plans to continue his work making the community welcoming to artists and entrepreneurs.

‘‘I hope that there can still be a place for me in Silver Spring,” he said.