In a surprise email this morning—even to staff members—The New Foundation Seattle announced through a New York PR company that it is laying off its staff, closing its gallery doors at the end of May, and will continue only in a more limited role.
The New Foundation is the project of Shari Behnke, philanthropist, who issued a statement that “Due to an illness in my family, I am simplifying The New Foundation Seattle. I have chosen to put my family first right now.”
It continues: "The foundation will be closing its exhibition space in Pioneer Square, and the current programming will conclude at the end of May. Employee positions have been eliminated, and new board members have been added to facilitate the restructuring."
When I contacted Founding Director Yoko Ott and Associate Director Jessica Powers this morning after receiving the email, both said the changes and announcement had happened without their knowledge. They asked me to forward them the announcement so they could read it. After they'd read it, they both said they could not comment yet. All four of the Foundation's staffers were not notified or consulted about the changes.
Behnke did send the announcement via email to one of the partners working with The New Foundation on the ambitious yearlong project Housing Is a Human Right, focusing on issues of housing and displacement through the work of Brooklyn artist Martha Rosler. In that email, Behnke wrote, "I will continue to run the Foundation after the 30th [of May] but on a much smaller basis."
I called the phone numbers of the spokespeople on the announcement, but I haven't heard back yet.
Who are the new board members?
Is Behnke willing to speak on record about her decision and what a more limited New Foundation will look like?
I also emailed Rosler to ask if she knew about the changes. No response yet.
The PR email says Behnke will "continue her efforts on The 100K Prize, a biennial unrestricted cash award, which will next be presented to a woman artist in late 2017."
The first winner of that award was Rosler, and Housing Is a Human Right was pitched as a major yearlong commitment encouraging the artistic community to join in facing and addressing the housing and homelessness crisis in Seattle. All partner programs, at locations including Seattle Public Library, Seattle Art Museum, and the University of Washington, "will continue as scheduled," the announcement read.
On The New Foundation's web site, nothing looks different.