Tuesday, September 18, 2007

gallery director controversy roils local listservs

Until this summer, David Fogel was the director of the Heliport Gallery, a small space located on the first floor of an apartment building on 13th Street. Last month, he was abruptly fired, sparking a firestorm of protest on local listservs.

"David Fogel had a true vision and feeling for our community," wrote local artist Tom Block in an e-mail sent out to the listservs last Thursday. "To have him replaced in this manner is a true detriment to the Silver Spring scene."

Heliport is run by the Gateway Georgia Avenue Revitalization Corporation, an non-profit organization devoted to improving the Georgia Avenue corridor in both Silver Spring and the District. Citing an interest in "moving in a new direction," GGARC's executive director "came to my office and verbally told me," of the firing, says Fogel in an e-mail interview. "I then received an official letter, later that day."

Sorry for the lack of pictures, but there's so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Fogel, who says he "can't specifically remember when I began with Gateway," was quickly embraced by the Silver Spring arts community. His mother founded what is now the Imagination Stage in Bethesda. In addition to his work at Heliport, located on the first floor of the Gramax Building on 13th Street, Fogel also helped start the South Silver Spring Merchants' Association. He also posts regularly on the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association's blog.

Having worked alongside Fogel at the Heliport Gallery for years, Block is protesting the appointment of Brenda Smoak to interim director. A Kensington resident, Smoak owns Alchemy, an art store on Georgia Avenue. Already a member of Gateway's Board of Directors, Smoak was already familiar with the organization, but some residents took issue with her day job.

"It seems irregular that a boardmember of a non-profit organization would replace a program director in this manner," wrote Block, calling Smoak's appointment a "conflict of interest." In his e-mail, he encouraged readers to boycott her store and register their complaints with the Montgomery County Council, who provides funding for GGARC.

"It's a tragedy," says Block in a phone interview. "No one can figure it out. But there are some dubious circumstances."

Smoak maintains that her only goal is to support the local scene. "My whole life has been about supporting artists," says Smoak. "I wanted to help keep the gallery open until they find a replacement."

As owner of a store that sells items from over a hundred local artists, Smoak is astonished that one would turn against her. What she's referred to as a "vindictive e-mail campaign" by Block has forced her to resign from Gateway altogether.

"I have removed myself from everything," says Smoak. "I don't know how to address the listservs . . . I support [Tom Block] in his endeavors, and I'm kind of shocked because I'm being attacked." David Fogel's removal was "a personnel matter I wasn't privy to," she adds.

Word of Smoak's resignation from the Board - and complaints from other South Silver Spring shopowners fearing a boycott - led Block to write a new e-mail Monday morning. "I heartily retract this call," writes Block, "and will plan on visiting her enchanting boutique in the next few days to purchase some well-deserved jewelry for my wife."

The promise of a sale wasn't enough to placate Smoak. "Tom Block and his wife, Debbie Spielberg have posted erroneous information far and wide," responds Smoak in an e-mail later that day. "Their attempt to hurt my business, and ultimately, adversely affect the livelihood of over 140 artists selling their work through Alchemy and it's [sic] markets, is devastating to our community."

Meanwhile, Fogel continues to look ahead for new opportunities. "I've been incredibly humbled and awed by the support and kind words I've received," says Fogel. "I'm looking forward to moving on with my life, with Silver Spring and the positive future that we both have in store."


Anonymous said...

This is all so sad and depressing. Long have we considered downtown Silver Spring's designation as an "Arts & Entertainment" district to be a joke, particularly in regard to the first half.

David Fogel did more to elevate the arts visibility that DOES exist than anyone else, and his dismissal is most unfortunate and really sets back the momentum that this visibility had been gaining.

Jerry and Nan McCoy

Anonymous said...

The GAME of "GOSSIP" deterioriation of information. Is the info that is being disseminated fact or innuendo. Emails,news articles, letters, blogs....what do you want an Oscar for the best dramatization series in South Silver Spring.

Face it The Heliport was not at the forefront of the Arts & Entertainment scene. It was indeed a work in progress thanks to David Fogel. I visited the gallery and was not mused. I am sure David has his friends, groupies, and followers who are akin to family.

Remember David is seeking a new job. You are probably doing more harm than good.

Anonymous said...

Did you talk to gateway about the situation?

Dan Reed said...

I did, in fact, try to get a hold of a board member at Gateway, but never got a response.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Fogel was never as inclusive as Neil Joffe and John Landis; there had been times that some of us had popped by his gallery events (Fogel time) and were not greeted or attended to at all. I think the new team is a much better match for the Heliport than the previous. And I'm horrified to hear of what Mr. Block and others have done to discredit Ms. Smoak and her really cool Alchemy shop. I used to purchase a lot of her artists' wares and I am saddened by this loss, months later still...