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Friday, July 18, 2008

Executive Director of PONCHO Fired

posted by on July 18 at 17:35 PM

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.

RSS icon Comments


"events aren’t the most philanthropic way to raise money anymore"

This represents a naive understanding of fundraising. Events do raise money, but the main function is to bond your supporters to the organization and to make contact with their guests (read, new donors).

Posted by blank12357 | July 18, 2008 5:54 PM

Well, Mr. Kelly, if you're one of the migrant artists who actually temporarily appear/perform at some of these big institutions, having "more money" is hardly an issue of "fun." It's a matter of survival. I subsidized my profession through low-wages for 35 years at institutions run by wealthy volunteers; How about you? What do you make at your day-job, when you're not volunteering?

You better believe every damned dollar counts. We need to disenthrall ourselves from some of these institutions.

And while we're at it: some city-wide arts ceremony "like the Tonys" is not only provincial and asinine, Ms. True, but demonstrates the accuracy of the perception Mr. Hamilton gave, regarding Poncho, at his job interview.

Posted by Laurence Ballard | July 18, 2008 7:20 PM

PONCHO is a party for rich white people.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | July 19, 2008 9:58 AM

@3, it's also a stupid name for an arts organization. I mean, really.

Do they meet in a villa (ba-dum-bum...)?

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | July 19, 2008 10:16 AM


very rich people stuff, who the fuck cares

these events are the ONLY place you see Seattle repugs, really

Posted by John | July 19, 2008 8:01 PM

@5, normally I'd be right (left?) there with ya -- but these rich white people happen to be a siphon for much-needed financial resources to the not-at-all-so-rich artists and art orgs.

So let the Bellevue potentates and their Brides of Botoxenstein dress up and share stories of Obama's Islamic radicalism...the arts get to pick their pockets all night long.


Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | July 19, 2008 9:50 PM

Dan Savage advocates for the Iraq War in The Stranger--Oct. 2002

"War may be bad for children and other living things, but there are times when peace is worse for children and other living things, and this is one of those times."

"In the meantime, invading and rebuilding Iraq will not only free the Iraqi people, it will also make the Saudis aware of the consequences they face if they continue to oppress their own people while exporting terrorism and terrorists. The War on Iraq will make it clear to our friends and enemies in the Middle East (and elsewhere) that we mean business: Free your people, reform your societies, liberalize, and democratize... or we're going to come over there, remove you from power, free your people, and reform your societies for ourselves."

Posted by ................... | July 19, 2008 10:21 PM

Actually, I'd be a bit happier if some of these rich white folk simply supported the work of the artists and arts organizations with their attendance at the events the artists themselves produce, namely gallery showings, recitals, concerts, plays, etc., etc. That would seem to be a more effective, not to mention more direct, means of "connect(ing) more with arts and artists" than attending a costly once or twice-a-year fundraiser.

But then, I guess it's more fun for an organization to say "we raised $500,000 in one evening" than it is to say, "we sold 5,000 more tickets than last season" or whatever.

Posted by COMTE | July 19, 2008 10:27 PM

@8, Comte I hope they are doing BOTH. Your point is well-taken, but I think it's only half the equation.

The "United Way" model of raising money centrally for many organizations has proven itself time and again as a model of both efficiency and efficacy. IF -- big IF -- the collecting entity is also operated efficiently and effectively.

Too often, the artists with the most cachet or publicity get the attention -- and, of course, dollars -- from the collector class. The unknown artist in Renton who may be a nascent Johns or Frankenthaler couldn't get these people's attention if they set themselves on fire by I-5. They need the seed money grants and other accessible programs for their chance to get on the ladder.

And that's what PONCHO (fuck, I hate that name...) provides, among other things. And in conjunction with other groups.

Carry on.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | July 19, 2008 10:33 PM

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