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Part 1: The new President of the Guadalupe doesn't want to answer my questions

The corporate-looking guero with an artist’s name, R. Bret Ruiz, who grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, became the President of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center last July after a two-year national search.

He is the fourth person (the title has changed to president) in seven years to lead the institution since Pedro Rodriguez resigned as executive director of the Guadalupe in the late nineties.

I interviewed Ruiz on Tuesday, February 21st. Ruiz didn’t seem happy to see me, and was accompanied by Loretta Zevallos, a peruana-americana who was introduced to me as his Comptroller, who is also acting as his public relations manager.

In the Guadalupe’s corporate boardroom, Ms. Zevallos asked me right away what kind of story was I going to write? And for whom? I told her that I was a free-lancer, and that as a citizen of San Antonio, I wanted to understand why the Guadalupe, which received $450,725 in operational funds alone from the city of San Antonio for this 05-06 fiscal year, didn’t have any events or programs going on, which is its mission. Especially the Tejano Conjunto Festival, which has drawn two hundred thousand people to San Antonio in its best years.

The world-class Tejano/Conjunto Festival, scheduled for May 10-13, 2006, takes at least a year and a small army of staff and volunteers to organize. No one has been hired yet to direct the golden anniversary of this world-class festival that is just over two months away. Ruiz said he was working on it, and that “it’s going to happen.” A press release would be out in two weeks, he said. Zevallos smiled, adding that the Guadalupe had “many volunteers.”

Somehow I doubt that Ruiz or Zevallos has ever attended the Conjunto Festival.

It takes a million and a half dollars to run the Guadalupe,” estimates Mary Jessie Garza, former Arts Education Director who was fired January 11. Mary Jessie, who is fighting cancer, has lost her health benefits as a result. Almost half a million dollars on top of the City’s allocation comes from monies she and her staff raised from foundations and corporations, she told me. And ninety-two percent of all youth who attend classes have received scholarships in the past.

Under her tenure, the Guadalupe was serving 900-1200 children monthly. She keeps good records, she says, and can prove it. On a visit that we made together to the Cesar Chavez building where the arts classes are held, we counted about 50 youth registered this session instead of the usual 350.

Ruiz just doesn't have the experience to manage a program this size or complexity, says Garza. The Guadalupe's overall budget has been about $1.5 million yearly, with approximately $400,000 targeted to education. In Dallas, Ruiz was managing "a constant $200,000 budget for the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folkorico in Dallas, including just $33,000 for education which didn't change in the last three years. ” He doesn't know how to get money, she says, citing the Form 990s, available to the public online, www.guidestar.org

There’s no comparison, she says, between “The Anita M. Martinez' one discipline – dancing – and the six disciplines the Guadalupe encompasses - including the family events that the Guadalupe has every year. Under Ruiz, the family events, like Día de los Ninos/Dia de los Libros, has been cancelled. He's also cancelled the Guadalupe's Annual Three Kings Festival, which draws 800 families yearly.

The famed Giftshop/Bookstore has been closed in the Guadalupe Theatre's lobby.

To date, there is no one no to manage the Art Gallery, the yearly BookFair, the CineFestival, or the Arts Education programs, all central to the Guadalupe’s mission and history.

Yet Ruiz told me “there was no change in programming, no change in classes.”

However, while the Guadalupe’s own website lists a schedule for the arts educational programs in visual, media, and music, there are no directors listed. When I visited the new hot-colored 20,000 square foot Visual & Media Arts Building on Brazos Street a half-block west of the Guadalupe Theatre – the complex that is supposed to hold all these classes and more - it was completely empty. The only sign of life there was a man named Rafael, who was acting as a sort of security guard at the state-of-the-art building. Rafael told me there were no classes going on except dance in the evening.

SBC was also there.

How did this happen, I asked Bret. Where is the money going?

Since Ruiz took over last July, seven staffmembers have been released from their contracts, terminated, or resigned because they were distressed by his policies. All these employees are degreed, with many years working experience as artists or working in art programming. They include: Irma Mayorga, Ph.D, Stanford University, who was contracted to manage the Art Gallery and BookFair. She applied for the President’s job, but wasn’t interviewed; Leroy Martinez, Director of Operations; José Garza, Development; Mary Jessie Garza, Arts Education Director and Interim Executive Director prior to Ruiz; Irma Carolina Rubio, M.A.E.E., art education staff and a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Nicole Enriquez, education staff; and Terry Soliz, receptionist.

The female staffmembers, including Mary Jessie Garza, Irma Mayorga and Carolina Rubio, have spoken to me complaining, on-the-record, that Ruiz made racial and sexually disparaging remarks about women. And about the people in the Guadalupe neighborhood, a poor but with rich history and culture. "He used words like rasquache and gente cochina and that he refused to shop at the HEB Las Palmas porque hay mucha gente rasquache at Las Palmas," said Mary Jessie.

In addition, I was told by former staffmembers that two other employees in critical positions would be leaving soon.

Only three of the staffers remaining are involved in full-time arts programming – Dance and Theatre Arts. These include Belinda Menchaca, Dance Program Director and Jeanette Chavez, her assistant; and Marisela Barrera, Theatre Arts Director.

The remaining staff includes: Roman Contreras, Asst. Comptroller, and Angie Botello, Accounting; Dolores Zapata Murff (Dee), who has filed a grievance against Mr. Ruiz, formerly Public Relations and Marketing Manager and now in limbo; Pedro Ramirez, Guadalupe Theatre Manager, and Santiago L. Ybarra, who maintain the Guadalupe Theatre; Carmen Salinas, Membership Volunteer Coordinator; David Mercado Gonzalez, graphic artist.

The new hires that Ruiz has made are: Loretta Zevallos, Comptroller, Cynthia Langston, Director of Development; ; and Ruiz introduced a woman, also white, from out-of-state at the February boardmeeting hired to manage arts education. He also announced that he'd hired a PR manager, an Anglo male, to manage the Conjunto Festival.

The mission of the Guadalupe is to preserve, develop, present and promote the arts and culture of Chicanos, Latinos and indigenous peoples.

“I’ve always been passionate about the arts,” said Ruiz.

Photo Credit: At the Guadalupe Cultural Center, "Virgen Veladora," by Al Rendon, www.alrendon.com

******To be Continued: More questions about R. Bret Ruiz. On the trail of the Guadalupe's debt and financial practices; A complaint letter from Dolores Zapata Murff (Dee) regarding sexual and racial harrassment; A snapshot of the Guadalupe's Board meeting in February; a National Perspective from NALAC, the Guadalupe's Youth Tell It Like it Is!; and a profile of Terry Ybanez, a prominent community leader, teacher and MFA-artist, who has been denied a seat on the Guadalupe Board of Directors. And mucho mas.




Comments

The 411 Show said…
This is very interesting,yet sad, I hope what looks like the obvious is not what is happening, that the Guadalupe is being mismanaged by people who are only in it for themselves, and not the public they are suppose to be serving.
Pat Benitez
Verdi said…
It is happening and has been happening for years. People know about it but nobody will say anything because it makes the arts community look bad and the politians look stupid. Thanks for doing this. It's important because we need the Guadalupe but we need it strong. And we can't permit the crap that has gone on with funding over there. Money for the arts is too scarce in this town! This needs to be fixed and information needs to get out about other organizations in this town, like Jump-Start, that do amazing things with tiny bits of change left over from the city's coffers.
Aside from the criminal conduct that appears to be taking place at the GUAC, the saddest thing is that this center had its start with a grass roots direct action takeover of the building that still serves as the hub of the organization. As a scholar and cultural worker, I know that the center has been mismanaged for years and also has lost touch with its working class Raza constituency. Whether this started with the program by Up With People, the firing of the program directors, or the mysterious and troublesome upward flow of finances, is not the issue. The fact remains that the GUAC is being mismanaged. Not only do we need to fire that fake ass bato running the show but we need a plan to restore some integrity to the center. As it stands now, even the racist gabachos laugh at it. Worse, too many people are being traumatized by it. Enough is enough. Thank you Barbara for your grito.
Comrade Urbano Montez
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