The Fayetteville Observer recently provided an update on the status of the site for the new Fayetteville Museum of Art and its overdone design. It is sometimes useful to take a look back at a situation so that the next steps forward might not be yet another jangle of more missteps. 
    The FMA began serious discussion about a new building at a new location in 2005. At that time I was a new member of the museum board of trustees. Much of the board’s activities were then focused on how to raise a lot of money for the proposed project. An idea proposed by board member John Malzone was accepted as an excellent start. A $1,000 per couple gala dinner with a lottery for a new car would be the promotional draw. This event was conducted twice with moderate success. Unfortunately, the money raised was not applied as intended, i.e. to a new building war chest. Rather it was used for day-to-day operations.
    Earlier in 2005, an effort to place the new museum at the south end of Festival Park was mounted. This was opposed by the Downtown Alliance and Marshall Isner in particular. Dr. Menno Pennink made cogent argument for the south end location but then City Manager Roger Stancil prevailed and made an alternative offer, the park’s north end. Certain board members saw this as a preferable location, including Malzone who made statements to that effect during a board meeting. Malzone owns retail businesses on Rowan Street near the new north-end location. Accepting this location was the first mistake.
    An executive committee was formed to manage all aspects of the new museum project. Virginia Oliver, Dr. Shirish Devasthali and Tom Grubb plus non-trustee Terri Union comprised the decision making group. Despite concerns voiced by at least one board member, a consulting firm was hired to develop a capital fund-raising plan which would include identifying which persons, families and businesses in our community could be expected to contribute major donations to the project. The cost of the consulting services has run into hundreds of thousands and little or no useful information was provided in exchange. So the hiring of consultants to tell the board what it already knew, or should have known, was the second mistake.
    A request for proposals was issued by the executive committee. A short list of respondents was developed by this committee with obvious participation by a select one or two members not on the committee. One member pointed out to the board that a minimal amount of funds should be in place for preliminary architectural fees before short-list firms were asked to submit proposals but this was not done. On Dec. 15, 2005, the museum board met in the Headquarters Library Pate Room to see and hear presentations by the four firms selected for the short list. Of the four presentations, the very least remarkable was the totally unprepared Ten Architectos firm from Mexico City and New York. The other three had developed impressive renderings which indicated both imaginative design and a thorough understanding of the particular requirements of an art museum. The Ten Architectos presenter, Enrique Norton, offered nothing but a portfolio of work done for other clients.{mosimage}
    Nonetheless, when the presenters left the room at 4:30 that afternoon, Oliver called for a decision at once, allowing each member no more than three minutes to offer comments if they so chose. Malzone stood and made a speech extolling the wonders and benefits of the Ten Architectos firm. Then, Devestali stood and did the same. Then Oliver called for a vote. A plurality of the members present voted for the firm Malzone and Devestali clearly were pushing. A decision that should have taken weeks of careful and deliberate analysis was completed in less than five minutes. That was the board’s third mistake.
As the process continued, a very nice reception was held at the home of then board member Jesse Byrd. Individuals in the community with a strong interest in the arts or a reputation for supporting cultural endeavors within the community were invited. Senator Tony Rand was made honorary chairman of the capital drive for reasons obvious to all.
    Early in the spring of 2006 I brought to the board’s attention the need for analyzing expected sustaining costs as they might apply to a much larger building. This led to no small amount of dissension and I subsequently resigned due to a loss of confidence in the board’s leadership. That was definitely not a mistake on my part.
    While the community expected a two-story building in the $5-$10 million range, the “design” submitted by the Ten Architectos for the FMA is a smaller version in many respects to a building done by the firm for the Guggenheim Foundation. The cost estimates are $15 million. The board, according to The Fayetteville Observer account, has raised $1 million. Well, that is a start.
    A very strange city council meeting was conducted last July at the FMA to resolve the location issue. No elected person seemed to be running this city council meeting. With a minimum of discussion the Festival Park site was set. The manner in which that meeting was conducted and the decision regarding location was the fourth mistake.
    The last and most obvious mistake will be if the FMA board persists in its efforts to build a new museum on Festival Park grounds. It is now obvious that the park cannot accommodate both the proposed building and park activities. Public sentiment will wane as will funding. The FMA board needs to take a serious step back and consider its mistakes and options before they press forward else they may look back and see no one following.
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