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Five key arts players walk out


Turmoil at the Central Sierra Arts Council continues to grow with the resignation of its executive director and four members of the board of directors, including President John Lytle.

Deanna Dechaine, who began as executive director Jan. 15, after a four-month national search to replace predecessor Julie Mushet, submitted her resignation Thursday, board member Connie O'Connor said yesterday.

The resignation was effective immediately, she said.

On Friday afternoon, O'Connor resigned from the board, along with Lytle, Jim Riggs and Thomas Maguire.

Vice President Don Hukari has become interim president. He could not be reached for comment.

The full board has 20 members, although several vacancies existed before the new resignations.

Dechaine gave no reason for leaving in her one-sentence resignation letter.

But on the previous Monday, about 50 people turned out to protest the termination of two veteran Arts Council employees, Zoe Christopher and Twyla Olsen, while keeping the new executive director.

In trying to explain the financial reasons for the terminations — and the closing of the Arts Council's Sonora gallery and office space — Lytle said the council has no reliable source of income for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The Arts Council must keep a full-time executive director on staff to secure any chance of future funding from the California Arts Council, he said.

"Where's the loyalty?" Sonora teacher and performing artist B.Z. Smith asked at the May 19 meeting. "We had this wonderful staff entrenched in the community getting their hands dirty with us, and now we're being told they're being cut loose."

Twain Harte artist and businessman Patrick McGinnis suggested forming a committee to raise money for staff salaries and offered $100 to start the fund. He said pledge forms could be obtained at the Arts Council office.

Unfortunately, Lytle said, that was the first time the board had heard about the plan, and that the matter was more complex than obtaining short-term funds.

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