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Part 6: What's going on at the Guadalupe? A Journal Entry from the February Boardmeeting

I attended the February Boardmeeting at the Guadalupe Cultural Center, and it's painful for me to say it, but it was the worst boardmeeting I've ever attended in my whole life.

Let me preface that by saying that I have participated on other boards and committees: The Girl's Club, The Women's Forum, ACLU, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Teatro Dallas, and the Commission for Cultural Affairs in Dallas, among others.

En otras palabras, I've seen my share of boards. But the Guadalupe takes the whole pastel.

Sitting on a board is thankless. It's truly a labor of love. It requires a great deal of work for very short minutes of glory. For those of you who don't know, boardmembers are supposed to make policy - that is, they direct the president or executive director in setting the mission for the organization. They are supposed to help raise money, bring in an audience, improve the image of the organization, negotiate contracts at times, and of course. They are ultimately responsible for the financial stability of the organization.

And, of course, provide institutional and moral leadership. They are supposed to be role models.

At the February 23rd meeting I attended, there were only six boardmembers present - including president R. Bret Ruiz, who now has a seat as a voting member on the board. The Board would not have had a quorum otherwise - a bad omen, I think.

The Boardmembers in attendance were: Juan Aguilera, Chair; Ismael Chavez Hernandez, Vice-Chair; Patricia Celis, Secretary; Laura Hernandez; Mary Zoila Ponce, Ph.D; and of course, R. Bret Ruiz. The Board was sitting around a long table in the Guadalupe Theatre, facing each other. They never looked at the staff or the young people in the audience.

That night I counted twenty-five people in the audience, including some staff and Grupo Animo members (from the Theatre Arts program). No Board Agendas were distributed. When I asked for a copy of the Board Report, Ruiz said no, as did his new Comptroller, Loretta Zevallos.

People wanting to speak in front of the Guadalupe Board get three minutes. The Financial Report, given by Zevallos - who was also sitting with the Board - was delivered in almost a whisper - so that I couldn't hear what she was saying. And I was just sitting twelve feet away.

The Financial Report took maybe fifteen minutes of discussion.

There was no engagement from the Board to the audience. I spoke to some of the Grupo Animo students, outside the Guadalupe Theatre lobby during the meeting. They were Kristin Cuellar and Laura Lozano, both Animo actresses and high school students, who told me that "they had alot of questions....yet to receive answers."

"There used to be scholarships," they explained, telling me of having to rehearse in the lobby of the theatre instead of the stage because of the electricity. They told me how they packed the house with Johnny Tenorio.

Back in the boardmeeting, the students watched, incredulously, as the Board pretended they weren't there. No acknowledgement, no nothing. No thank you for coming. I could see that the dozen or so young people assembled there were losing their innocence minute by minute in watching the Board. I felt sorry for them.

The Board walked out to go into Executive Session. No smiles or handshakes or anything.

Maria Ibarra, an actress and contract teacher working with Marisela Barrera, told me that she was witnessing the spirit of the Guadalupe crumbling. How the Boardmembers seemed to be undermining the group, so that she had seen a "decrease in youth [members]. We feel like you have no power...memo after memos."

She talked about late paychecks, and how it would happen every time, how it's been happening to her in the last two years. She says that even the great artists are treated as expendable. They're starving anyway, she says, and [the Board] is so disconnected to the community, to the youth. They don't go to any of the recitals."

Have you ever gone to a Boardmember's house? I asked.

No.

"No eyecontact, she said. No eyecontact to anyone who spoke."

Photo: At the Conjunto Festival, courtesy of Mary Jessie Garza

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