By Marcia Love
Concerns with transparency and fairness have resulted in the founder of SW Quest for Art & History dissociating herself from it, and the non-profit organization is now trying to iron out the problem.
Nancy-Jean Taylor, who founded SW Quest for Saskatchewan Art & History in 2005, has withdrawn her support of the organization that promotes artists, galleries, museums, and natural and historical attractions across the Southwest due to issues with its governance.
While filling out her 2015 membership application, Taylor noticed it was a “non-voting associate membership,” meaning she would be unable to vote on policies, budgets, amendments, fees or new board members.
Referring to its articles of incorporation and the Non-profit Corporations Act, as well as consulting specialists, she concluded the organization should have only one class, all of whom are entitled to vote at meetings and become directors. According to Taylor, the board’s bylaws define two classes of membership, but the bylaws must follow the articles of incorporation.
Bringing her concerns to the board, she reported its response was associate members – who pay an annual $50 membership fee – are typically individuals or groups seeking help in promoting their artwork or organization, and therefore are not usually active in the day-to-day activities of SW Quest. A regular board member is an individual willing to volunteer their time on a regular basis to the organization to further advance its goals.
“The decision to classify all artists and historic organizations as associates denies them the right to have any say in the good governance of SW Quest, as well as going against the articles of incorporation,” Taylor stated in an email to the membership and media. “While I think that the SW Quest board has had some great ideas to promote art and history, it is my opinion that in carrying out its responsibilities the board has not been respectful, inclusive or transparent, and that it has not acted with integrity in the best interests of the local creative community, which it claims to represent.”
The SW Quest board – comprised of the organization’s three regular members – reported a lawyer has reviewed its governance and bylaw paperwork. SW Quest president and acting treasurer Devin Beck stated the board submitted the proper paperwork to Information Services Corporation last month which will change the articles of incorporation to allow for the two classes of membership. He expects the process to be complete by next week.
Beck said the oversight occurred when a non-profit organization he set up in 2012 called Leaps and Bounds Skills Coaching was changed to SW Quest in 2013 by amending its mission and articles of incorporation. However, it had failed to amend its membership.
But the revision isn’t the solution Taylor is looking for. She said the issue is the artists and groups for which the organization exists should not be classified as associate members, but regular members who have the opportunity to attend annual general meetings and vote.
“As long as art and history members remain in the wrong class, they remain voiceless and cannot monitor the actions and decisions of the board,” she stated.
Taylor isn’t the only one who has dissociated herself with the organization. Several other artists have also withdrawn their membership, citing concerns with the way SW Quest is operated.
But there are still photographers, artists and artisans who are pleased with the organization and the exposure it has provided them. There are currently about 65 members of SW Quest.
Gail Christiansen, an artist and photographer from Swift Current who is a member, said she is very happy with the outlet it offers to local talent.
“I’m quite satisfied with the promotion of our work,” she said, noting she has already been a part of two artists receptions through SW Quest.
And the artists, photographers and groups who make up the membership are the ones ultimately hurting from the issue brought about by the oversight, Beck said. Promoting them and their work is the main objective.
The governance concerns have already resulted in one exhibit being cancelled for the summer. The SW Quest members exhibition that was to be held at the Grand Coteau Heritage & Cultural Centre in Shaunavon for all of July will no longer take place.
Board member Laurie Leigh said the organization is open to any constructive suggestions and ideas members have. The co-owner of the Rockin’ Horse Cookhouse & Bar has assisted in the marketing of artists’ work at the restaurant and joined the board after its treasurer retired.
“I’m not sure what they want to vote on or how cumbersome they want this very small non-profit organization to be,” she stated, noting there is “no line up of people wanting to join the board.”
“It would be really great if we could get feedback from the majority of the current artist members to find out how really important this would be,” she added.
Feedback has been difficult to get. When Beck sent out an email to all 102 of its members at the end of 2014 asking if they would be interested in attending an AGM, he said he only received one email response.
“There was no interest. So we had it with just our regular members, which happens to be our board members, and we’ve continued on from there,” he said.
However, Taylor said she did not receive an email regarding the AGM. And according to her, only two of the three regular members were at the meeting.
In the future, SW Quest intends to formally send all members notice of its AGMs.
Leigh added if the majority of current members would like to vote at AGMs, the bylaws could be changed to reflect that.
“It was never the intent of anyone to exclude members,” she said. “The whole intent has been to place the focus of the few volunteer hours we have to market all members’ work to the public.”
In a letter emailed to the membership and media, Beck stated the SW Quest Art & History tours, travelling exhibits and other events are ways the organization is working to the benefit of not only the artists themselves, but the communities and local businesses that are visited during the events.
“Are we perfect? No,” he wrote. “Do we believe we are meeting the needs and wants of the vast majority of our current members? Yes, absolutely.”