Gramercy Park Block Association - Neighborhood News #333   
NY CULTURE | March 27, 2013

Portrait Emerges at Arts Club  
New President Expected to Take Reins

After a turbulent period marked by a state investigation into its finances, the National Arts Club-a 115-year-old institution on the edge of Gramercy Park-appears poised to elect a new president.

 

The Rev. Thomas Pike is expected to succeed Dianne Bernhard in the top post in May, according to board and club members close to the selection process. Ms. Bernhard, a painter, took over the reins of the club in 2011 after its longtime president stepped down amid allegations of mismanagement.

Philipp Reinmann    
The Rev. Thomas Pike is expected to lead the National Arts Club.

"The institution is bigger than the individual," Ms. Bernhard said. "It's time to step aside and let someone else take the helm. [Mr. Pike] can continue the healing for the art world, the club and the neighborhood."

 

The change marks the latest chapter in a time of upheaval for the organization, which occupies a stately Victorian mansion in one of Manhattan's most exclusive enclaves. Founded in 1898, the club has a mission of advancing the arts.

 

After 25 years at the helm, O. Aldon James Jr. stepped down as president in March 2011. Other club members alleged he had mismanaged money and abused his position. The club then moved to oust Mr. James as a member.

 

Mr. James disputed the allegations and has four lawsuits pending against the club in Manhattan Supreme Court regarding his ouster and related accusations, according to the club's attorney. A lawyer for Mr. James, Gerald Shargel, declined to comment. In the past, Mr. James has said he was unfairly targeted and the club inappropriately removed him from his membership and residence there.

 

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also opened a probe into the club's management and oversight.

 

After an 18-month investigation, Mr. Schneiderman sued Mr. James in September 2012 in Manhattan Supreme Court, alleging he cost the club $1.75 million. He was accused of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an extensive collection of luxury items and flea market bric-a-brac he allegedly kept in more than a dozen rent-free club apartments he controlled, costing the organization rental income. Mr. James doesn't face criminal charges in that investigation.

 

After the attorney general filed suit, Mr. Shargel alleged it was part of a board effort to remove from him from the club because members disagreed with his management style. "There was no misappropriation of money. Aldon James never put a dollar into his own pocket," Mr. Shargel said at the time.

 

At the same time he sued Mr. James, Mr. Schneiderman reached a settlement with the club, which agreed to changes in its oversight practices. The deal required the club's then-board members to step down at the end of their terms and eliminated below-market leases for board members on club apartments.

 

The attorney general's office said the move will help the institution "transition to a new chapter in its history." None of the members of the board of governance was accused of malfeasance.

 

Mr. Pike, who retired as the rector from nearby Calvary-St. George's church, also sat on the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.

 

A longtime member of the club, Mr. Pike was unanimously named in January to the board of governance by a nominating committee. The 21-member board will vote in May on its president.

 

"It looks as though I may be elected president," Mr. Pike said, adding that the election is a "democratic process."

 

Board of governance member Ira Goldberg said it is a "strong likelihood" that Mr. Pike will lead the club. Another board member concurred, as did Vaughn Massey, chairwoman of the club's young members committee and a resident of one of the club's apartments.

 

Ms. Bernhard, whose board term ends in May, will take over the club's fine-arts programming and plans to modernize its exhibitions and decorative artwork. "There's a learning curve [in contemporary art] for many of us," she said. "Now we're embracing everything. It feels good."

 

Club members lauded Ms. Bernhard's tenure and credited her with restoring to the institution a sense of order, tighter controls, and a more positive public image. Mr. Pike called her "the solid foundation" of the club.


-Pia Catton contributed to this article.