Bryan Suereth

Portland’s Disjecta Contemporary Art Center Dismisses Founder Bryan Suereth

Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, a nonprofit organization in Portland, Oregon, has announced that its board of directors has dismissed founder and executive director Bryan Suereth due to conflicts over leadership, Richard Speer of Oregon Live reports. Cris Moss, director of the University of Oregon’s White Box Gallery, will serve as the interim director.

Suereth, who established the arts space in 2000, converted Disjecta to a nonprofit in 2004 and has since served as executive director under a board of directors. During his tenure, he helped launch a curator-in-residence program, organize a series of biennial exhibitions, and secure $170,000 in grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Problems between Suereth and the trustees began when Christine D’Arcy became board chair in 2014. Suereth said, “When Chris came in, we lost structure and guidance.” He added, “She can be very terse in her mode of communication. She’s a systems-oriented, law-and-order type and I’m an impulsive but pragmatic rule-breaker.”

D’Arcy said that the situation is “not a result of a personality conflict” and cited Suereth’s job performance as the reason why the board let him go: “The board conducted a performance review of Bryan in late 2015. He was credited for his transformational role as founder, but one hundred percent of the board felt that stronger management skills were needed.” D’Arcy and another board member discussed keeping Suereth on as founding advisor with a paid stipend for the year, but said Suereth “did not wish to discuss the proposal.” Moving forward, D’Arcy plans to develop a business model that will increase revenue, maximize fees from rentals and events, and grow the art center’s audience to secure more financial donors.

The board announced on November 16, 2016, that Suereth would be discharged at the end of the fiscal and calendar year. At that time, Suereth emailed the organization’s supporters the following statement: “It seems surreal that my tenure could end so tersely, behind closed doors, and without community input . . . I’ve sacrificed immensely to build Disjecta, and I cannot distance myself from the feeling that it is being stolen from me.”

A group of people including architect Daniel Kaven, artist Modou Dieng, and real estate developers Mary Hanlon, David Gold, and Ken Unkeles appealed to the board to keep Suereth at the helm of the organization. They promised to donate $150,000 over a three-year period and to campaign to raise an additional $150,000 if Suereth were allowed to stay on as director. The board arranged to discuss the offer in a meeting on December 20, after which they turned it down. Kaven said, “I don't believe the organization will be able to function without Bryan’s brain trust.”

Suereth said, “I feel they’ve disrespected me and imperiled Disjecta in a way that didn’t have to happen. But I definitely have an inclination to stay involved in this community. I have an idea of starting an artist residency in the Gorge. I feel I still have an immense amount to give.”