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Published on November 29th, 2012 | by RLn Staff

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Santa Fe to San Pedro

By Andrea Serna, Contributing Arts Writer

This summer the arts community in San Pedro received two new members.

Stuart Ashman, president and CEO of the Museum of Latin American Art, and his wife, ceramic artist Peggy Gaustad have moved to the scenically breathtaking White Point area of San Pedro. The journey to San Pedro has been long but rewarding for this couple whose lives have been permanently immersed in art. “I heard about the great Art Walk here, and the location is really close to the museum.”

Now, settled in San Pedro, Ashman and his wife feel they have discovered a home they can lay claim to.

The Ashman’s lived for one year in Long Beach after arriving to take the job at MoLAA. They lived in a temporary residence, a duplex in Belmont Shore. They knew that they needed to find permanent housing, taking into consideration their dog, Scout, a huge shepard/corgie mix, one well-fed cat and a kiln for Peggy’s pottery.

A search began that serendipitously led to the cliffs of White Point. Mostly unaware of the rich artistic community here, they are discovering the unexpected jewels to be had. A “million dollar” view, right next to a landslide, pelicans, dolphins and whales outside their window have been almost daily surprises.

“Now we have dolphins instead of donkeys,” Ashman said. “We love the diversity of San Pedro. It has its own character. We did not even know it was the city of LA.”

Having lived for more than 20 years in the desert of New Mexico, Ashman said the one criteria he had when looking for a new job was a city containing the name “beach.”

Ashman spoke with artist and former MoLAA board member Michael Stearns. The fact that he was moving his studio to San Pedro influenced him to investigate  living in the area.

After 24 years the move from New Mexico to Los Angeles  has been significant for the couple.

Ashman quotes a statistic that: “LA has 22,000 people per square mile and New Mexico has four.”

For the past several years, Gausted has worked in red earthenware clay making a full line of functional dinnerware and serving pieces that relate to the Mexican and New Mexican landscape. She is looking forward to developing an additional line that reflects the California and San Pedro landscape.

Gaustad was raised in Redlands, Calif. and graduated from UC Riverside in 1974.  In the late 70s she moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where she spent 2 years earning a masters of fine arts in ceramics. Subsequently, she moved to Santa Fe, N.M., where she lived and worked until coming back to California.

“I longed to smell the salt air again,” she said.

The Search for Leader
MoLAA has been searching for a director who can lead them into the “post-founder” phase of their history.

Ashman has served as director of the Museum of Fine Arts in New Mexico. He was also founding director of the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in Santa Fe and served as cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs for more than seven years.

Following that appointment, Ashman served as an advisor for the U.S. Peace Corps, working on arts-related programs in a number of Latin American countries. Once that assignment ended Ashman found himself on a search not only for a new job, but a new home.

The museum’s founder and benefactor’s imprint  made the process of finding a director  challenging. MoLAA founder, Dr. Robert Gumbiner, amassed a substantial permanent collection according to his populist taste. New modernism in Latin American Art has required a reevaluation of the collection.

In addition, the operations of the organization followed a convoluted maze that Gumbiner was famous for creating in his previous history as the founder of the infamous HMO, Family Health Plan. A series of poor appointments to the position of CEO created a rocky path to the job Ashman filled. The arrival of Ashman to the museum this past year brought much hope for a new direction.

Ashman’s substantial resume was the primary reason he was chosen for the position at MoLAA, but his upbringing seems to have assured the fit. Immigrants from Eastern Europe, his family relocated to Cuba. Raised from infancy until 12 years old in Cuba, his father worked for Casa Morris, a Kodak distributor in Havana. This sparked an interest in photography which is reflected in the current MoLAA exhibition, Lola Álavarez Bravo: The Photography of an Era. The exhibition, which runs through Jan. 20, presents the work of one of Mexico’s most important photographers from the 20th century.

The Challenges
Ashman has had one year to assess the revenue flow at the museum. Visitor and donor activities have added to the budgetary concerns for the new CEO.

Recently, MoLAA hosted a wildly popular Lucha Libre wrestling match, as well as the traditional Murals Under the Stars and Day of the Dead celebration. Fundraisers included the museum’s first golf tournament and a profitable art tour to Cuba. Another Cuban trip is planned for 2013.

The museum recently cut $600,000 in expenses, bringing its annual operating budget to just less than $3.5 million. Operational expenses were brought into line, but the majority of expenses were in payroll. Two staff members were eliminated, two vacant positions were eliminated, and a couple of positions were downgraded in marketing and special events to avoid layoffs. The most controversial cut in the budget was the elimination of chief curator, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, a well respected expert in the field of Latin American art.

Fajardo-Hill came to MoLAA from the Cisneros Foundation in Miami. She brought a high level of respect to the curatorial direction of the small museum.

“We have two very good curators on staff, Idurre Alonzo and Selene Preciado, one of whom has been on staff for eleven years, and knows the collection better than anybody, and the other who is very well linked to the Mexican-American community and the Mexican community in Tijuana and beyond,” Ashman said. “You always lose something when you cut the budget, and the biggest cost in the museum is personnel.The budget is more realistic and it is based on what we have achieved in the past.”

Although the board of directors voted unanimously on the budget cut backs, there is always controversy. Board member Nicholas Pardon of the private art collection, Sayago & Pardon, resigned following the termination of Fajardo-Hill. Pardon is a major collector of Latin American art and Fajardo-Hill serves as an advisor to his group. He was influential in the hiring of Fajardo-Hill.

Ashman is aware of the pain the cut backs have created for his staff. His work is cut out for him to create a new, more inclusive vision for MoLAA. A vision that moves past a rigid mission statement that excluded Latino artists north of the border and did not always welcome the neighborhood in which the museum resides.

“ I believe that in the history of the museum this [budget crisis] is going to be a small chapter.”

 

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