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Flash Responses, 2-11: Terminated
Mullins, Fontaine, & White on Sandstrom; White on White; Dorfman on NJ Gov's Arts Attack

On the planned termination of Philip Sandstrom as Theater Operations Director of Dance Theater Workshop

Dear Paul,

I learned the shocking news about Phil Sandstrom's firing from your rant. I read the response letters and still feel the major question has not yet been answered.

Sure, a financial crisis must lead to cut-backs. David White's letter convinced me that the suggestion to fire one of the two curators was no solution. But why Phil? It seems both unwise and unfair. And the timing, right after the new theater opened, seems incredibly cynical and cruel. How much discussion was there about other solutions? Couldn't all these bright people get together and figure out some solution more equitable -- a shared cut in salary or hours or something? It cannot just be about money. What then? Tell us.

His dedication to DTW cannot be questioned. He was always working. And in the last couple of years to a superhuman degree -- getting the new theater built, equipped and running.

At this point he must know more about the new theater than anyone. I feel the new theater will probably never achieve its full potential without Phil overseeing its fine tuning as it operates. Too bad for DTW. Too bad for all of us. I believe DTW will soon rue the day they lost the chance to have his intelligence, experience, organizational ability, knowledge and dedication. Countless problems requiring his innovative solutions have come up. New ones will inevitably arrive.

I have enjoyed hearing artists tell him how much they liked the warm floors or some other aspect that he worked so hard to get. He listens to dancers. But dancers can't complain much about this situation. They might lose their chance to dance in the beautiful new theater he devoted so much to.

And I would still like to hear the real story.

Carol Mullins
Lighting Designer


Dear Paul,

Thanks for the Buzz on the unjust firing of Phil.... Is Mr. White planning to leave DTW soon? Is it possible that Mr. White could leave DTW with Phil, the heart and soul of DTW's theatre department, still carrying on?

Phil has been the production manager at DTW for 22 years. He has enabled DTW to work with very few resources. How does firing Phil make economic sense? Thank you for questioning Mr. White's statement that the bottom line is his reason for letting Phil go.

With the opening of the new theatre the position of "Theater Operations Director" was created to reflect Phil's real worth. DTW's theater is bigger and has more production demands placed on the staff than it previously had. Mr. White and the board approved the restructuring of Phil's title just six months ago. Phil hired a Production Manager and Technical Director at that time. Has the economic downturn been so quick that the board and Mr. White could not have informed Phil six months ago that DTW would not be able to expand to a three person staff? If Phil could have anticipated that by taking on the just created position of Director of Operations, he would be let go if budget cuts were necessary, one cannot imagine that he would have accepted his new title. Mr. White's economic argument for the elimination of the position of the Theater Operations Director is implausible. Why not just let the newly hired Production Manager go and return Phil to his position as Production Manager? Mr. White and the DTW board want Phil out, the question is why?

DTW's new theater has twice the equipment, twice the height and twice the responsibility to be a great space for the artist's of NYC. It does not seem plausible that Phil, who has spent his life making it possible for Mr. White to have one of the best modern dance theatre venues in the world, is fired for pure economic reasons. Phil is trusted by a generation of artists to make sure that they have great shows. Why would Mr. White want to loose this treasure? If DTW's production staff is to go back to two people, why fire the employee who is the most knowledgeable and valuable resource?

Jeff Fontaine


Paul,

I don't want to continue to debate every issue regarding Philip's departure from the staff later this spring. But I want to reiterate to Dave Feldman that I alone made this decision -- not the board -- and only after a long and very difficult consideration of DTW in the post-construction environment. The head-hunting should stop with me. I would say also that DTW has been doing intensive long-range financial planning since the purchase of the property in late 1995 -- early on, DTW's finance and real estate committees, including both board and key staff members, plotted the implications of design and construction, as well as of the financing costs inherent in a capital campaign, on the future operating expenses. We haven't done this simply for kicks -- we've had to provide minute detail on projected expenses, income, and the gap between them over time to every institutional funder, to the Non-profit Finance Fund, to the Kresge Foundation and to many others involved in making this happen. I don't want to speak for any of those institutions, but I'm pretty sure the people who have dealt with DTW on the numbers have been impressed with DTW's effort and the transparency of the effort.

We have known for several years what the opening season (FY 2002-03) would look like, and the projections have been pretty much on target, as was our construction budget. And that included a clear understanding that the 2003-2006 period would be a transitional period, as we ramped up to assume the costs of a facility that is four times the size of the old DTW (including studios, offices, media lab, and gallery in addition to the theater itself). That we would have to work on both the expense and income sides of the transition was a given. Everybody at DTW, Phil included, has been keenly aware of that obligation.

As for fat in the budget, I just want to remind Dave and everyone else, being a working theater is only part of what DTW does. We provide services to nearly 1,000 artists; run significant, long-term networking projects; provide stipends and fellowships; and other projects -- for each of which, by the way, we raise separate monies. Money to produce artists in the theater is not, and could not be, the same funding as for the Mekong Project or for Public Imaginations. We have been around for 37 years, and in all these ways we are a bigger organization because we have survived and done all our jobs.

DTW's present and future have to be managed, in its programs, its departments and its entirety. We are no longer simply, or not so simply, building a building, but instead putting our mission, and our artists, back into that building. I don't expect everyone to understand, much less like, some of the decisions I have to make. And inevitably there are human and management dimensions that I simply won't discuss, out of respect for others. But none of those decisions have been, are or will be made recklessly. Each has extremely serious reasons behind it, and equally serious soul-searching -- no one should underestimate the pain or compassion that accompanies the process.

David


Editor's Note: We also asked David White to address his own future at DTW, as well as possible scenarios for leadership which would succeed him should he leave the organization. His response follows.

Paul,

Sorry I don't know what to say, because I don't have a story to tell at the moment. It's clear, as in the past, you'll tell whatever story you want to tell. I will say that as regards any kind of eventual succession at DTW (which needs in any event to happen in anticipation of anything from cardiac arrest to being hit by a bus), however it takes place sooner or later, I can say that I will only be part of that process, and that it hasn't begun. Once again, you might not want to hype the non-facts. Also, as regards me, a lot of this appears to be old news and the result of my open discussions over recent years with people in and out of DTW. Obviously, we're not in the business of keeping secrets as we think about the future.

David


On New Jersey governor's plan to eliminate state arts budget

Dear Paul,

Thank you for your interest in how the governor's FY 2004 budget proposal will affect the New Jersey's arts community and in particular, my company's artistic and educational programming and community impact.

The elimination of grant funding, along with the elimination of the entire arts infrastructure including all staff related to the New Jersey State Council for the Arts, NJ Cultural Trust and the NJ Historical Society are shocking, senseless and a true indication of this governor's values and priorities. I am sure that you have been given all of the statistics and information that confirms the true value of the arts in our society and in particular, NJ, but I will share a story. Today I sat at a meeting at which the secretary of state of NJ, Regina Thomas, addressed leaders of the arts community. I asked, "Is our statement provided by ArtPride true? Do the arts actually bring in $10 in state revenue for every $1 spent or invested by the state?" She said yes! I replied, "That is quite an extraordinary return on an investment. What sense does it make to end this revenue source that also has enormous public benefit in every arena, including economics, urban revitalization, education, quality of life, cross-cultural understanding and the humanizing effect of the arts on our people?" There was no answer. She basically advised us to kick and scream our case to the legislature. And, with great intelligence, planning and passion we will.

What will the impact of zero state money be on Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company? Devastating. It will mean cuts in artistic development and programming, fewer weeks of work for artists, less all around programming and innovative partnerships with other cultural, educational and community partners to bring the arts/dance to audiences throughout the state and on tour. Less arts education programming, in short, less impact on the audiences, students and communities we connect with each year. I create to speak. I create to share my work, its perspectives and human journeys with audiences. Cutting presenters' budgets will make producing dance in this state come to a virtual standstill. It is already tough and there will be no risks taken. The public perception of arts in this state will nose dive again. Raising other monies will be extremely difficult with "ZERO VALUE" placed on the arts by our governor and state leaders. Our "Discover New Jersey Arts" campaign may take a new twist. Someone suggested that it will need to say at the bottom: "But you'll need to go to NY and Philly again."

Make no mistake -- we will survive. We will create and produce and we will suffer and survive the worst blow to the arts community since the last time a Democratic governor took office. (Amazing.) We are also going to be part of the fight to regain what is critical to solutions for NJ's difficulties.

Thanks for your support.

Carolyn Dorfman
Artistic Director
Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company

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