Going Down?

The CVA plummets overnight from the art world's penthouse to the basement.

Wollard's letter reveals how angry this made her, and she characterizes the request as "ignoring the appropriate chain-of-command," as "attempting to blindside the President" and as being "unprofessional." Wollard ends the letter by writing that the document would serve as "formal notice" that Perisho's "performance is unsatisfactory and must improve immediately."

The injustice of it makes my teeth hurt. Were I to list all the distinctions, all the accomplishments, all the awards Perisho has received over the years, this page would provide insufficient space.

As for Wollard, her only claim to fame is an embarrassing and failed attempt to promote a pretentious new nickname for Metropolitan State College of Denver. She wanted people to start calling the commuter college "The Met." Hey, doesn't "Metro" already have a perfectly good nickname?

The Metro State Center for the Visual Arts.
James Bludworth
The Metro State Center for the Visual Arts.

In terms of Wollard's administrative style, the following is a telling anecdote: On September 12, while the rest of us were in a state of shock over the horrors of the day before, Wollard dictated another insulting letter to Perisho -- an inspiring display of dedication to her job, wouldn't you say? Interestingly, this missive wasn't on the letterhead of the Office of Institutional Advancement, like the other one, but on the letterhead of The Campaign for The Metropolitan State College of Denver, a fundraising group. (I guess those grant-givers were right: The CVA was being compromised by being part of the college's marketing department.) Another difference in this second correspondence was that an official copy was not sent to Kaplan.

According to the letter, Perisho's every move would now be monitored by Wollard or one of her underlings. In fact, Perisho couldn't even meet with her advisory council, a group she herself put together, unless Wollard was there.

If the first letter sounds like George Orwell, the second is downright Kafkaesque. Wollard writes that Perisho, in defending herself, has "denied any problems," which suggests to Wollard that Perisho is "not open to being a part of the solution." Then she writes that Perisho's "job requires much more than quality art exhibitions" and that she needs to "reach out and serve the community." Gee, I thought the way an art center reached out and served the community was to put on quality art exhibitions. Not to mention the numerous art-education programs Perisho has developed and sponsored for the region's children.

I think there's more here than meets the eye. I don't believe Klok's personnel complaint or the other trivial things Wollard raises in her letters were any more than excuses to push Perisho out. If Metro's ultimate goal was to get rid of the CVA -- and that's what I think is really going on -- they would need to first remove Perisho. This is a much more believable scenario than one in which Perisho is canned in deference to the feelings of a receptionist.

Maybe Metro sees the CVA as a source of free money. Perisho has it in very good shape. There's a schedule in place through 2003 and a $250,000 endowment that Perisho raised. Perhaps the college's administration hopes to redirect that money to fund the on-campus Emmanuel Gallery, or even use it for a non-art-related activity.

Perisho is emotionally shaken but says she firmly believes the CVA will remain open. "The center is Metro's jewel in the crown. They will never close it down," she tells me. "At least, I hope not. I'd hate to see all my work of the last ten years go down the drain." But I have a doubting mind, and I know shows can be canceled, and cancellation fees are less expensive than operating expenses -- especially since rent for similar buildings in LoDo can cost $7,000 to $10,000 a month.

In doing what it did, however, Metro is playing with fire. Every bit as important as the CVA's place in the art world is the who's who cast from the city's art and cultural establishment that Perisho has put together as advisors in various capacities, including gallery owner Bill Havu, Denver Art Museum associate curator Nancy Tieken, and collectors Fred and Jan Mayer, among many others. Now, I would never presume to speak for anyone in this august group, but I'm pretty sure that since Metro has dismissed Perisho, many of these movers and shakers will move and shake right out of the CVA; at least one, Havu, has already done so.

It's heartbreaking that after a decade of distinguished work, Perisho isn't getting a gold watch, but is instead being kicked to the curb. By its actions, Metro, in the persons of Kaplan and Wollard, has cast a shadow over the CVA that's going to last for a while. A lot of people feel the way I do -- that Metro's treatment of Perisho is abominable -- and it has left a bad taste in their mouths where the CVA is concerned. And that's going to last a long time, too.

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