An article was recently published in the Exeter Newsletter about the Exeter Selectmen voting to not reappoint Scott Ruffner, Executive Director of Arts Industry Alliance and TEAM, to the volunteer town Arts Committee. This also resulted in the resignation of two other members of the committee, Sharon Marston and Marissa Vitolo. The decision was met with a great deal of push back and questioning from Exeter citizens, with only Selectmen members Don Clement and Anne Surman offering explanations that they were doing what was “best for the town”. Some of the parties involved wanted to take the opportunity to give the community further background into the situation, and what goes on behind the scenes on these types of committees. Marissa Vitolo, artist and committee member of 5 years, had this to offer.
James Duprie, Producer of The Pine Street Players in Exeter, became involved in the situation when he learned that some people in town were interested in importing a theater group from outside the community. Pine Street Players is run out of the Christ Church, and was fairly new and just gaining momentum, and Duprie had concerns with the impact of an outside competitor. He started attending some committee meetings to get a better idea of what was happening behind the scenes.
“The current arts committee leadership has made it very clear that they are more interested in retaining power than actually expanding the Exeter arts scene. At one of the meetings, when a motion was made for nominations and an open election, the acting chair boldly announced that she would not be stepping down under any circumstance. It’s unfortunate that Scott's efforts to expand the local Exeter art scene is being obstructed by a small group of people that refuse to simply get out of his way and let him continue the amazing work he's been doing.”
Original Article in the Exeter Newsletter
Link to original article online: http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/20170427/local-arts-advocate-ousted-from-exeter-arts-committee
Open Forum Discussion With Exeter Newsletter
In the wake of the original article in the Exeter Newsletter, an open forum interview and conversation occurred between reporter Hadley Barndollar, editor of the paper Buzz Dietterle, the three exiting members of the committee (Scott Ruffner, Sharon Marston, Marissa Vitolo), and five other local artists who all had applications submitted to join (Steven Delong, David Drouin, Ellie Willis, Bruce Jones, Lorenzo Vigil, Chad Verbeck). All of them are either full or part time professional painters, photographers, musicians, or actors, ranging in ages from 26 to 60, who were willing to join the committee to further the arts scene in Exeter and help expand use of its public spaces. Many of them submitted applications as far back as October, but only heard from the town after Ruffner, Marston and Vitolo exited. All have decided to remove their applications from the committee, but will work together to keep a very close eye on its direction and if the group will be open to expanded use of the gallery space by outside organizations and active artists, musicians and performers living in town. They see two of the potential future members as having obvious conflicts of interest.
The three remaining applicants, Darius Thompson, John Moynihan, and Irene Graham Hall are all non artists. Thompson is the husband of the current acting chair Kathy Lewis Thompson, and both are vocal supporters of selectmen Don Clement and Anne Surman. Moynihan is the former Operations Manager at Prescott Park Arts Festival and current administrator at the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport. The panel describes this situation as the classic scenario they have been facing in the Seacoast "arts" community. with power-hungry volunteers and political agendas on one side, and professional non-profit administrators on the other. They see both as a detriment to a naturally occurring organic art scene that reflects and benefits the community and the artists who live in it.
Stream the full audio below.
Exeter Arts Committee Applications