A folksy choice to lead art market in Santa Fe

September 25, 2018

Stuart Ashman’s life travels have taken him from New York to Cuba to California.

But it’s in Santa Fe where his horizons have really broadened.

Ashman, the well-known executive director of the nonprofit Center for Contemporary Arts and a staple on the local arts scene for years, was named Sunday to become the chief executive officer at the International Folk Art Market | Santa Fe starting in January.

It’s only about a 1-mile trip from the CCA campus to Museum Hill, where the market is held each July. But for Ashman, it’s no small leap.

“This is a unique opportunity to make an impact on a greater number of artists globally,” Ashman said Monday. “I understand what the job is: Being the face of the market, ensuring that the community is happy, ensuring that the artists are happy and that we continue to grow the market.”

Ashman, 70, has a long history with the 15-year-old market, which hosts the popular annual summer exhibition of international folk art. In 2004, he helped put together the state funding deal that allowed the market to start up when he served as secretary of the state Department of Cultural Affairs, a position he held from 2003-10. He later pushed the market to bring in more artists from Cuba.

Ashman said Monday that members of the market’s board reached out to see if he was interested in the job this summer, following the departure of former CEO Jeff Snell, whose contract was not renewed.

Snell’s departure after a three-year stint followed July’s event, which set a record for sales with more than 150 artisans from more than 50 nations selling about $3.4 million in goods over three days.

Though some members of the Folk Art Market’s board and Snell said they parted on good terms, the board seemed to have reservations about going ahead with a plan he endorsed to establish “sister markets” in other cities to create new venues for the artists to sell their work.

Ashman said he has not had much discussion with the board about either replicating or expanding the market.

“I don’t know what their decision will be on that,” he said, “but whatever policy they set is the policy that will be carried out.”

Jane Reid, vice chair of the market’s board, said in an email that the board made a decision “early on to hire a person who had deep local experience in non-profits and the art world.”

Ashman said he signed a three-year contract with the market but declined to reveal how much he will earn, saying the organization’s policy “does not allow me to discuss salary.”

Nonprofit salary information is public record and nonprofits must report those figures on their tax returns. Based on 2016 tax documents documents, Snell was earning a little over $200,000 a year.

Ashman will stay with the Center for Contemporary Arts through about Dec. 20. He said that group’s board will meet in early October to discuss searching for a new director.

When he took the CCA job in May 2016, Ashman — who had previously worked as president and CEO of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Calif. — said he hoped his appointment there would put an end to a decade of high leadership turnover at the nonprofit, which initially opened as a film society in 1979. Before he started working there, the center had at least five executive directors in 10 years and often was battling for financial survival.

In the past few years the center has financially righted itself, in large part because of the efforts of a former board member, Paul Hultin, Ashman said. The center recently initiated a campaign to raise $500,000 a year on a three-year pledge deal to build up a reserve fund.

Ashman said the organization has netted $200,000 in pledges. He said the CCA has been in the black for several years.

The center’s most recently online tax return form available, from 2016, listed total assets at about $1.84 million and expenses at about $1.1 million, which included $464,640 in salaries.

Ashman said the nonprofit has programs, exhibitions and films scheduled into 2020. Earlier this year Ashman and the center’s Cinematheque director, Jason Silverman, announced the organization had entered into an agreement with the city to operate The Screen on the campus of the old Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

That deal, a one-year pilot program, is intended to see if CCA can help keep the Screen vibrant.

Ashman said that though attendance at the Screen started off low, “it’s remarkably successful. It’s been growing. I know — I count the money.”

Ashman, born in New York and raised in Cuba, started his career in the arts in Santa Fe in the 1970s at the Armory for the Arts at 1050 Old Pecos Trail, the same compound that now houses the Center for Contemporary Arts. He also worked as executive director of the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts in Santa Fe.

His wife, Peggy Gaustad, serves on the advisory board of the Folk Art Market.

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