Newsletter: June 20th, 2022

What Happened to Boca Museum's Artists' Guild?

"The Boca Raton Artists Guild Gallery Offers 20% Off All Art Now Through July 17 As Gallery Closes" read a June 2020 post in the Ricki Report, an informational blog on art in Palm Beach County. The blog later states that the Guild was looking for a new space.

It never found one.

The reason is a story that sounds all too familiar to local artists in Delray Beach, who saw its city allow Artists Alley fall to a developer and caused the Cornell Museum go dark. It is a cautionary tale about a city or an organization casting aside the very people and values that gave birth to it.

The Boca Raton Art Guild thought its 70-year partnership with the Boca Raton Museum of Art would endure the test of time.

At its height, the Guild, an Auxiliary of the Museum, had a membership numbering close to 250, including many local artists in Delray Beach. One hundred of its members qualified as professionals by art experts the Guild brought in during what the Art industry calls a jury process.

Officially formed in 1950, Guild members were instrumental in founding the current Boca Raton Museum of Art, buying the land, and constructing the future Museum's first building in 1962. A decade later, the Guild changed its name to Boca Raton Center for the Arts.

In 1983, the Boca Center for the Arts became The Boca Raton Museum of Art and members of the Guild became an Auxiliary of the Museum, which had changed its focus to the presentation museum quality exhibits. At that time, the Guild still had exhibit space within the building it had funded and constructed. The Guild also ran the Museum gift store.

But as the Boca Museum grew in scope, size and number of visitors, the Guild was moved out of the building and, with the assistance of the Museum, set up its Gallery in a series of leased spaces in Boca Raton, one on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. During that time, the Museum built and moved into its new 44,000 multi-million-dollar square foot building in Mizner Park and the old building became the home of its Art School.

The Boca Museum's new relationship with the Guild seems to have benefited both for quite some time.

The Museum co-signed commercial leases for the Guild's exhibition space and paid for its insurance. It also kept the Guild books. In exchange, Guild members were required to be paying Boca Museum members and put in countless hours volunteering at the Museum's events and auctions, which were a driving force for soliciting and obtaining Museum donations. They paid a separate Guild membership fee, as well as exhibition and competition entry fees, to fund Guild operations, which included paying rent and utilities. It gave the artists a way to display and sell their art and a percentage of the Guild's sales was given to the Boca Museum.

It seemed to be a win/win situation until the Museum's administration and focus began to change once again.

The first indication of that change was the Guild's move out of its Delray Beach location on Atlantic Avenue, which it had occupied for nine years.

"My understanding," says Lenore Robins, a past president of the Guild. "Was that the Boca Museum basically said, 'We're the Boca Museum. You're the artists of the Boca Museum. You need to move back to Boca'."

The move to its last and final location on North Federal Highway in Boca Raton benefited the Guild, and likely the Museum, for the next three years.

"We put a lot of volunteer time and money into making it a great exhibition space," Robins said. "The energy of that was phenomenal and it turned out to be a good move to a larger space."

But suddenly, in 2020, the Museum declined to co-sign the Guild's lease. Nor did the Guild get any indication that the Museum would continue their past relationship in another form.

"As far as I know," Robins said. "There was some concern about the cost, but the Guild wasn't given the opportunity to talk about the cost. If we had, our board would have gone back to our membership to raise our fees and see if we could work something out...They (the Museum) kept the books."

As an Auxiliary of the Museum, it couldn't sign a lease on its own as it was organized, nor did it have its own organizational and financial track record, which a landlord would want. The Guild was disbanded and today, even its website is no longer operating.

"It devastated the local artists," said a former Delray Beach member of the Guild.

But the Boca Museum had moved on to bigger and better things and left local artists behind. Its expensive exhibitions, "Machu Picchu " and currently "Art Meets Hollywood" (California), has garnered national, even international, acclaim. An accomplishment lauded repeatedly by Delray City Commissioner Juli Casale as a reason for the Boca Museum to take over the Cornell Museum at Old School Square.

The Cornell Museum went dark after Casale, along with Mayor Petrolia and Commissioner Shirley Johnson, voted to terminate the City's 33-year relationship with the OSS non-profit that had given birth to Delray's art and cultural campus and led the revitalization of downtown Delray Beach.

On June14, Delray's City Manager, Terrance Moore, was directed in a 3-2 vote to begin negotiations with the Boca Museum for the long-term management of the Cornell.

Best Regards,

The Friends Of Delray Board

Judy Mollica - President

Steve English - Treasurer

Gregg Weiss - Secretary

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