Friday, Jan 25 2013 05:15 PM

Employees' exit latest bad news for Arts Council of Kern

BY CAMILLE GAVIN Contributing writer, gavinarts@aol.com

With the news that two employees intend to resign effective Feb. 1, the beleaguered Arts Council of Kern will be down to one paid staffer to administer all of its ongoing programs on behalf of the arts community.

Program manager Kari Heilman and receptionist Nicole McKenzie have announced their plans to leave the arts advocacy organization. With the layoff of program manager Nicole Saint-John in December, that leaves only executive director Michael Millar, who said in a phone conversation Friday that he has no immediate plans to replace any of the vacant positions.

When asked who will be responsible for ongoing programs -- including one funded by the Irvine Foundation and another recent partnership with Southern California Gas. Co. -- he said, "We are working on that, and nothing is finalized at this time."

After Saint-John's departure, Millar had expected visual artist Claire Putney to carry out Creating Community, the Irvine-funded project. However, Putney, an independent contractor, resigned on Jan. 4.

Millar said he's currently in discussions with the Irvine Foundation, but no decisions have been made yet.

The deadline for the gas company project is flexible. As stipulated in the grant proposal, anticipated times of completion are either May or September.

Heilman, who describes herself as an art appreciator as opposed to a professional artist, did not say why she is leaving.

"It's time for me to move on," she said. "I'm a rolling stone -- wherever the wind takes me, we'll just have to wait and see what comes up."

McKenzie, who started out as a volunteer with the council before being hired as receptionist about four years ago, said she's leaving for a higher-paying job in Delano.

The Arts Council has been struggling with a financial crisis for months, much of it related to the loss in 2012 of a contract that accounted for half of its budget.

Millar, who was on medical leave when Saint-John was laid off, returned to work earlier this month to learn that his pay had been cut 20 percent in response to the budgetary crisis. In addition, several board members have resigned in recent weeks.

Arts Council board president David Coffey could not be reached for comment Friday.

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