August 03, 2009

New Langton in Crisis – A Response from the Board

Last week, in response to an announcement from the institution and a semi-public letter of resignation from its director Sandra Percival,  I posted that New Langton Arts has found itself in “serious financial jeopardy.” A conversation followed in the comments box here, mourning Langton’s loss (perhaps prematurely), diagnosing its ailments and proposing potential cures—the very variety of responses speaking, at least in part, to certain gaps in our knowledge.

Tercerunquinto, "New Langton's Archive For Sale - A Sacrificial Act," 2007

Tercerunquinto, “New Langton’s Archive For Sale – A Sacrificial Act,” 2007

María del Carmen Carrión, a curator at Langton under Percival, posed to the board what were the most immediately relevant questions: “What do you imply when you ask us to help you secure NLA’s legacy? Are we talking about the institution itself and future programming? If so, of what sort? Are you asking for help to save the archive? To cover the current debt? Or are we trying to just pay respect to the legacy and propose a wake for what Langton once was?”

A response from the board this morning brings the situation into a bit more focus.

The New Langton Arts Board of Directors has been meeting around the clock to work through the critical issues and is in deep discussions about the future of the institution.  In the interim, before decisions regarding what form the institution will take, NLA is vacating its gallery and theater space on Folsom Street and safeguarding its archive.

The board would like the community to know that all of the questions raised on Open Space are being considered at this time through board processes as well as through continuing conversations with the arts community. These questions cannot be answered immediately, but they will be answered.

The board acknowledges that the call for a public town hall meeting was premature. Rather than host the public meeting, the board determined that it first needed to address urgent funding and space issues and so considered a virtual forum to be an appropriate venue to host a conversation with the public. The SFMOMA blog has served, and continues to serve, as a platform for this.

Thank you for your continuing interest and commitment to Langton.

NLA Board of Directors

The dispossession of its premises on Folsom is obviously an enormous blow to the institution; practical matters, in particular the organization and preservation of Langton’s archive, have taken precedence over conversations about the institution’s longer-term survival. As the outlines of the calamity begin to come into view, though, the rest of us might try to assess what exactly has been lost, and to think, together, “What next?”

Comments (3)

  • A few years ago, after having curated or performed in experimental music events at The Lab and Southern Exposure, I was interested in proposing something to Langton. A board member also encouraged me to do so. When I went to Langton’s website, looking for submission guidelines, (that had existed there in the past), it basically said, “Don’t bother. But you can rent our theater space.” I didn’t pursue it further.

    A little over nine years ago, I helped found an arts organization in Oakland dedicated to the type of work Langton mentions in its mission. I’m definitely grateful and appreciative of Langton’s pioneering efforts in that regard. Even in that relatively short time period, I noticed that it’s somewhat a struggle to keep “au courant.” Some of it is the staff’s ability to keep tabs on what’s going on, but a significant amount of it is having people doing interesting new work come to you.

  • Patricia Maloney says:

    As one answer to Julian’s question, “What’s next?” I want to return to Anthony Marcellini’s observation that perhaps Langton’s fate is indicative of the health of the Bay Area art community. However, I’d like to turn his measure on it head, and point not only to an institution at the point of collapse, but to one that may seem the least likely to fail – and, not coincidently, the one within which this discussion is happening—SFMOMA. From either perspective, the objective remains the same: to ask ourselves what we want the Bay Area visual arts community to be, and think, as Anthony indicates, about how to get there. So it is not enough to evaluate Langton’s missteps and contemplate its options for survival. We also have to understand the reach and influence of the institutions that thrive, and take into consideration what they offer their audiences.

    Julian observed that Langton faltered through its efforts to adopt the more conservative programming of larger institutions, and inability to pursue new audiences. Does the responsibility for creating new audiences lie solely with the individual organization? To what extent does a larger organization, in absorbing new artistic practices, need to support or point to the smaller institutions that pioneered them? To what extent does each venue need to understand how the other contextualizes such practices? In other words, what are the interdependencies between institutions, regardless of size, for creating audience?

    I raise these questions because I find it highly relevant that this conversation is happening within the institutional sphere of SFMOMA (via its blog) and that the town hall meeting to be hosted by New Langton has been postponed. Are the implications that one values a public forum more than the other, or that the former is unaffected enough by the fate of the latter to enable this conversation? I don’t believe either is true. I do strongly believe though, that the locations where such dialogue occurs are crucial (within and outside institutions), that multiple forums are necessary, and that the board and staff of New Langton recognize that the questions they are asking themselves are germane to the community at large.

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