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Laid-Off Marciano Art Foundation Employees Focus Their Attention on a LAXART Board Member

Since 2016, Olivia Marciano has served as the Foundation’s Artistic Director and is today a board member at the arts nonprofit LAXART. Former employees are demanding she speak up.

LAXART, Friday, November 15, 2019 (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

LOS ANGELES — More than a week after the Marciano Art Foundation laid off 70 visitor services associates and closed the museum shortly after workers announced their intention to unionize, the museum remains shuttered, with its website simply stating “THE MARCIANO ART FOUNDATION IS CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC.” The Marciano Foundation Instagram account was briefly offline yesterday, but seems to have been reinstated today, preserving a record of its exhibitions as well as countless comments criticizing its labor practices. The laid-off workers received an email Thursday evening confirming the “separation of employment” and affirming they would be paid for scheduled shifts:

“I am writing to follow up to the email sent to you on November 5, 2019 in which you were advised of your separation of employment from Maurice and Paul Marciano Art Foundation. We would like to extend our gratitude for your work at the Foundation. 

We are making a direct deposit into your account based upon the wages you would have received for your scheduled hours for the time period from November 7 to 21, 2019. The Foundation has dispensed with the requirement to sign a Separation Agreement.”

On the afternoon of Friday, November 15, 18 former workers of the Marciano Art Foundation and three members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), took their grievances to LAXART, the arts nonprofit founded in 2005, on whose board Olivia Marciano was appointed last May, alongside artists Kim Gordon, Zenas Hutcheson, and Glenn Ligon, and Conor O’Neil, a trustee of the Chauncey and Marion Deering McCormick Foundation in Chicago. Olivia is the daughter of Maurice Marciano, who, along with his brother Paul, founded Guess Jeans and the Marciano Art Foundation.

Since 2016, Olivia Marciano has served as the foundation’s Artistic Director, and was previously a gallery assistant at Luxembourg and Dayan in New York, although her roots in the Los Angeles art world date back to a 2012 internship at the Hammer Museum, according to her Linkedin profile (she graduated from New York University in 2014). She also sits on the board Artadia and was previously a board member of RxArt. Olivia Marciano curated the Marciano Foundation’s final, large-scale solo show, Donna Huanca: Obsidian Ladder, an installation with live performers which Huanca says confronts “patriarchal realities, power dynamics, and hierarchies of contemporary life,” according to the Marciano Foundation’s website.

“By curating the Donna Huanca show, she demonstrates that she’s very aware of issues that are part of global and national conversations,” Eli Petzold, one of the workers organizing the union effort told Hyperallergic. “Because she cares so much, we want to hear what she has to say.”

Former Marciano Art Foundation workers and LAXART Director Hamza Walker, November 15, 2019

The action at LAXART was decidedly less boisterous than the protest at the Marciano last week, with only a handful of individuals entering the building’s courtyard, as others waited silently outside the gates, holding up signs. A rehearsal for a performance was taking place inside, so LAXART’s director Hamza Walker met the group in front of the building, where they presented him with a letter signed by AFSCME District Council 36 Executive Director Cliff Kerce outlining recent events and describing why they were now focusing their attention on Olivia Marciano and LAXART. 

Speaking to ARTnews in February, Olivia said that ‘it has always been essential to keep the LA art community at the center of everything we do at the foundation.’ We, too, are part of that art community,” the letter states.

“Throughout this entire process, we have not heard Olivia stand up for her employees. It’s dispiriting and unacceptable for her to take a back-seat role when the future of MAF and our livelihoods are on the line.”

It closes by asking LAXART to “hold Olivia accountable by urging her to reopen the Marciano Art Foundation, reinstate all of the laid off employees and recognize our union,” following with a demand that she be removed from the board if she continues to remain silent.

Walker listened patiently as former Marciano worker Izzy Johnson read the letter, and then engaged in a friendly dialogue with the group for nearly 20 minutes.

“I’m delightfully shocked,” he told them regarding their sudden appearance. “I respect your position. You’re brothers and sisters in arms.”

Walker explained that he had been traveling when the workers were laid off and the museum shut down, and was still trying to figure out the details of the situation.

“I take it to heart that they showed up,” he told Hyperallergic and a reporter for the Los Angeles Times after the former Marciano workers had left. “I value having had a chance to have an exchange with them.”

Still, Walker said he did not see an obvious conflict between LAXART’s mission of engaging “with key issues of our time” and having Olivia Marciano on the board.

When asked if her silence up to this point was indicative of a lack of support for the former Marciano Art Foundation workers, he said, “I can’t speak to that, but I don’t want to believe that to be the case.”

Below is the letter in full:

November 15, 2019

Dear Board Member of LAXART,

You may be aware that 70 employees at the Marciano Art Foundation (MAF) were recently laid off after filing a union petition on Friday, November 1. We formed our union to advocate for better wages, more protections, access to resources and more accountability. On Tuesday, November 5, the Marcianos laid-off all of the workers in the Visitors Service Department. The next day the Marcianos announced that the Foundation would close until further notice. Olivia Marciano, the Foundation’s Artistic Director, is a member of your Board of Directors.

Like LAXART, MAF is a nonprofit organization that presents contemporary art to the public. As Visitor Services staff, we’re intermediaries between the art and a general audience, facilitating dialogues and interactions with the collection. 

It’s hard to put into words what this job has meant for us. We’re in this line of work because we want to stimulate curiosity, to communicate the significance of art, and to enrich the lives of our fellow Angelenos. We were excited when we filed our union petition because we wanted to make MAF a better place to work. Instead, we were fired and told the museum would be closing. The Marcianos and their company GUESS? have a long history of union busting, paying poverty wages, and violating workers’ rights. Speaking to ARTnews in February, Olivia said that “it has always been essential to keep the L.A. art community at the center of everything we do at the foundation.” We, too, are part of that art community.

Throughout this entire process, we have not heard Olivia stand up for her employees. It’s dispiriting and unacceptable for her to take a back-seat role when the future of MAF and our livelihoods are on the line. As an ambassador for the art world, why isn’t Olivia standing by her employees and the public to ensure that a space like the Marciano Art Foundation remains open, protects workers’ rights, welcomes in the art community? Why have the plans for February’s openings ground to a halt immediately after our unionization effort?

To this end, we are asking that as board members you hold Olivia accountable by urging her to reopen the Marciano Art Foundation, reinstate all of the laid off employees and recognize our union. 

We are counting on you to act swiftly and with integrity. Should Olivia continue to remain silent, we ask that she be removed as a Board member.   

Sincerely,

Cliff Kerce

AFSCME District Council 36 Executive Director

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