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How the Guadalupe Board Betrayed the Community: A Three Part Investigative Report

Part 3: No 25th Conjunto Festival Director, No Money, and the Artistas Speak Out

No director has yet been hired to organize the golden anniversary of the Tejano/Conjunto Festival, scheduled barely two months away, May 10-13, 2006.

In addition, the wholesale exit of the Arts Education team has left the Guadalupe Center with a devastated picture of student enrollment, with artists scrambling for their paychecks. Typically, says Mary Jessie Garza, the Guadalupe records up to 350 cabezitas per month in their in-house programs that see students. This number was confirmed by the Guadalupe’s past Board Reports that I secured via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the City of San Antonio’s Office of Cultural Affairs. Because the Guadalupe Center will submit their student enrollment report to the City in mid-April, it was impossible to verify the actual number of credible enrollments. The Guadalupe’s January Monthly Operating Report lists 67 students in art classes at the Guadalupe – one-fifth the usual number, says Garza. The mobile program that normally serves 90 students in the Westside community no longer exists.

“It’s a disaster.”

“I don’t know what happened…a few times I got paid a week later, “ stated master guitarist and music teacher David Gonzalez, who has seen his student size diminished by students who can’t afford the tuition spike to as much as $180.00 per student. A ten-year veteran teacher at the Guadalupe, he added that he’d heard a lot of artists were getting paid late. His session started six weeks late, he normally teaches 35-50 students, but now it’s half of that.

Adán Hernández, another master visual artist and teacher, whose paintings have been exhibited around the country, echoed the same problems – and more. “I don’t think much of this academic idiot, Bret Ruiz,” he said, citing problems with getting paid on time and Ruiz’s lack of attention to students and parents. “In January… when the classes were to resume, I was again struck to find that the tuition had been raised from $20 to $40 dollars a month, to $80! This forced the majority of the students to quit their beloved classes. I was enraged…I quit.”

Joel Guzmán, a master accordionist who won a Grammy in 2005, isn’t teaching this year, either,explained Garza, because of the cutbacks. “And he’s a great teacher,” she says, describing the extensive preparation and classical methods that he uses. Guzman and students from his class performed at last year’s Conjunto Festival.During Garza’s tenure, she and her education staff raised over a million dollars from foundations and corporations eager to support art programs for inner-city children. And now she worries that the whole funding cycle may be at risk.

When R. Bret Ruiz arrived in July, Garza explains, she allowed him to use her Guadalupe Center Gold American Express credit card out of professional courtesy. He had told the staff that he “had a lot of debt,” and Garza wanted to help the new president. Nonprofits typically use these credit cards for easier and more accountable purchasing. In retrospect, Garza says that it’s odd that an MBA would have trouble with his finances. On January 11th of this year, Garza, who has cancer, was fired. But her credit card wasn’t. When she was asked to turn in her card last November, Garza complied. She cut the card herself in front of an agitated Loretta Zevallos, Ruiz’s new comptroller. But her American Express bill, totaling $2744.43 to date, charges that she made for mostly art supplies – and that Ruiz used for meals – has not been paid. She has been told by American Express that her account is four months overdue, and is now in collections, seriously risking her credit.

Ruiz’s finances were also worrisome for Navarro during his term as Board President for Anita Martinez. He stated that he twice ran into Ruiz working evenings at the Iron Cactus – an upscale Mexican restaurant in downtown Dallas. I confirmed that Ruiz worked at the Iron Cactus from April 04 – August 04, during the time he was still leading the Anita Martinez Ballet Folklorico.

Ruiz, according to Navarro, “has no motivation, no drive…the [Anita Martinez] board was…blinded” because of his credentials.

“I want you to know I’m not a whistleblower,” Navarro says he told Aguilera. “But he [Ruiz] was the worst executive director we ever had.”You can take my word, he explained to Aguilera, that he didn’t have a personal vendetta against Ruiz. “I dedicate a lot of my time…to the community. You as Board President are responsible for the downfall of the organization…be careful.”

He was told by Aguilera that Ruiz was in a probationary period. Navarro says that he was very explicit with Aguilera.

What did Bret Ruiz do in the years that he was with Anita Martinez?, I asked him. "Nothing.”

I tried repeatedly to meet with R. Bret Ruiz and Juan Aguilera this week to get their response to what I’ve learned. Neither answered my phone calls.

So who’s to blame? According to Angel Rodriguez Díaz, an MFA Puertoriqueño, whose paintings have been exhibited nationally, whose work is in the collection of the Smithsonian, and who currently has a painting at the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA), in the Retratos exhibit - the organization has betrayed the artists who founded it.

Diaz attended the January boardmeeting to show his support for Mary Jessie Garza.He was dismayed by what he saw. “The institution is on the verge of collapsing,” he lamented, explaining that the Board was passive and had no “spark.”

The Guadalupe, he said, is “verging on extinction if nothing is done in a timely manner.”

But the Guadalupe is more than the Board of Directors and the President, R. Bret Ruiz. The Guadalupe is us, nosotros. And I know it’s tiempofor nosotros to save what we have built. And that means that the Board of Directors and the President, R. Bret Ruiz, must be thrown out of the house for their lies, machismo, arrogance, and most of all, for their falta de respeto to the community fromwhere they came. We call this sinverguenza.

And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.



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