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The Buzz, 1-12: Miller Time
Unembracing APAP's "New Era"

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

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As the Association of Performing Arts Presenters convenes its 47th annual members' conference today in New York City, I believe it's appropriate for APAP's members and its keynote speakers -- Tony Kushner and Tim Miller -- to call APAP president and chief executive Sandra Gibson to task for the callous manner in which at least seven valuable and dedicated APAP employees, more than 25 percent of its staff, were fired last Spring.

This year's conference, in which artists hoping to get hired will place their best before the presenters they want to hire them, is titled "Embracing a New Era: Creativity, Courage, Choices." The new era embraced by Ms. Gibson has been marked by termination proceedings in which at least one employee says she or he was prevented by APAP security guards from even phoning his or her mother, on the premise that the employee no longer worked there. If the fired employees wanted a decent severance package, their only choice was to sign a draconian "Letter Agreement." Here are some highlights, as set forth in a copy of one such letter made available to the Dance Insider by one of the fired employees: (The letter, on blank stationary, bears Gibson's signature.)

"You agree not to discuss (orally or in writing) this Letter Agreement and/or the circumstances of your termination from Arts Presenters with any person who Arts Presenters considers a business contact, including any current or former employees of Arts Presenters, any Arts Presenters members, vendors, prospective members, or prospective vendors. You also agree to maintain as confidential the terms of this Letter Agreement as well as information known to you regarding the operations, finances, membership, and membership programs (both current and planned) of Arts Presenters ("Arts Presenters' Confidential Information"). You may discuss with any potential employer only the nature and scope of your job responsibilities while at Arts Presenters. In that regard, to explain why you are seeking new employment, you agree to use the following statement when speaking to potential employers or persons from whom you intend to request a reference: "Arts Presenters has restructured itself and my position was eliminated in the process." You understand and agree that your agreement with respect to the confidentiality of this Letter Agreement and Arts Presenters' Confidential Information is a material inducement for Arts Presenters to enter into this Letter Agreement.

".... You agree not to disparage Arts Presenters or any of its officers, directors, shareholders, agents, representatives, partners, employees, consultants, attorneys, and successors in any manner whatsoever whether orally or in writing, to any person, including current and former employees of Arts Presenters. You further agree not to encourage anyone else to disparage or criticize Arts Presenters, or put them in a bad light. You agree to direct all requests for references or employment verification to me (Sandra Gibson) or a person specifically designed by me to respond to such inquiries."

"If you choose to reject the offer as set forth below," the "Letter Agreement" to this employee noted, "you will receive your pay and unused leave payout only through your last day at Arts Presenters."

When an employee had the courage to notify the Dance Insider about the way the employee had been treated, and to share his or her "Letter Agreement" with the DI, APAP -- whose web site also champions artists playing "a leading role in civic affairs and global dialogue" and a world in which "art and ideas circulate vigorously and freely" responded to the DI's request for comment by trying to muzzle us, threatening to use its precious member resources to sue us out of, an APAP executive claimed, respect for the confidentiality of the employees.

I ask you, APAP Members: Is this the manner in which you want your executive to represent you? And I ask you, Tim Miller, you who have made an art of speaking so eloquently about your own personal situation: Will you use the bully pulpit of your closing "plenary speech" Tuesday to address the gross treatment of these arts infrastructure workers whose work enables you and other artists to do what you do? I have a note from you, Tim, in which you say you are "buzzed" (hey!) "to be opining/ranting/shouting-out as the closing plenary speaker." Will you just rant the big picture and the politicians in Washington, or will you dare to rant the demagogues who hired you? I dare you, Tim! (If you want to dare Tim, you can, er, "buzz" him at MillerTale@aol.com.)

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