Arts Executive Director of PONCHO Fired
posted by July 18 at 17:35 PMon
Gordon Hamilton, executive director of arts-funding organization PONCHO, was relieved of his duties yesterday at a board meeting.
The news has been a shock for members of the arts community—Hamilton, in the words of one local development director, is “very well thought of.”
“This is stunning news,” says Jim Kelly, director of 4Culture. “I always thought of Hamilton as a guy who was shaking PONCHO up in a really positive way.”
Hamilton was a vice president at Safeco before applying to PONCHO four and a half years ago. Kelly recalls Hamilton telling the story of his job interview: “During the interview, they asked him ‘How do you perceive PONCHO?’ And he said ‘I perceive it as a party for rich white people.’ And they gave him the job.”
In broad strokes: PONCHO is generally regarded as a deep donor to large arts institutions (a lobby in ACT Theatre is named after PONCHO) while 4Culture is generally regarded as a broad donor to organizations large and small, as well as individual artists.
“The strategic direction of PONCHO is changing,” says Janet True, president of the PONCHO board, regarding Hamilton’s dismissal. “PONCHO was always an events-based organization, with our annual wine and art auctions and gala event, but events aren’t the most philanthropic way to raise money anymore. And auctions have changed—it’s a lot harder than before to raise money with them.”
True says PONCHO will continue its wine auction (projected income this year: $1 million) and art auction (projected income: $500,000—funny that the arts organization gets twice as much money from wine as art), but will discontinue its gala event.
Instead, True says, PONCHO wants to institute a city-wide awards ceremony—“like the Tonys”—at which artists will perform and press the flesh with local donors.”We want the donors to connect more with arts and artists than with an event,” True says.
PONCHO seems, in fact, to be drifting more towards 4Culture’s profile—the philanthropic organization for artists, rather than arts institutions.
“That’s fine,” says Jim Kelly. “The more money for artists the better. But if you’re an institution, the last thing you want to hear is ‘You’re too big for us to fund,’ because every dollar counts. While it might be more fun to be more connected to individual artists, it’s important to keep funding big institutions. Every dollar counts.”
Hamilton has not (yet) been reached for comment.