Sonoma Valley Museum of Art employees union allege unlawful delay of arts program

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art employees filed an unfair labor practice case with the National Labor Relations board following the delay to the ARTS program.|

The cultural workers union at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art has filed an unfair labor practice case alleging the museum has unlawfully delayed its Art Rewards the Students program with local Sonoma Valley schools.

The delay to the program has reduced the number of classrooms participating and forced teaching artists to curtail their lesson plans amid a hastened spring schedule after museum leaders assigned classrooms nearly two months later than normal, according to museum employees.

“(The museum) unilaterally changed the scheduling of the program without negotiating with the union,” said Ashley Mates, a representative of AFSCME Council 57 representing the museum workers’ union. “Less students are going to have access to this program because fewer teaching artists are available. And the ones that are, do not have as much time as they would need to do a successful program.”

The museum did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Index-Tribune as of Monday afternoon.

Since 2000, the ARTS program has connected artists with fourth and fifth grade students in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District to educate children on the fine arts. These “teaching artists” help students practice various art disciplines in preparation for the end of the program, when they have the chance to exhibit their projects in the museum.

But the delay of the program this year has impacted teaching artist Kelly Autumn who joined the museum last year. The museum typically matched teaching artists with an educator in the fall, according to employees. But by the time the spring semester began, Autumn had still not received information regarding her ARTS classrooms.

“None of us got that,” Autumn said. “And then we were going OK, now we're in January. Where is it?’ And we still weren't getting any answers … We've just been in limbo.”

The museum employees on Feb. 17 filed an unfair labor practice charge against the museum with the National Labor Relations Board that alleged the museum’s board of directors “unilaterally implemented a change in the status quo by delaying the distribution of spring semester teaching assignments and curtailing the duration of spring semester teaching assignments.”

ULP for Museum Workers

According to a news release from the museum workers, “Feet-dragging by Sonoma Valley Museum of Art management and board have threatened the viability (of the) museum’s signature community outreach program Art Rewards The Student.”

Teaching artist Alice Pennes said the delay has required her to simplify and shorten her lesson plan due to a shortened schedule.

Students have missed nearly two months of potential art education, she added.

“The students are now missing out and may lose the opportunity to see their work on the walls of our beloved museum,” Pennes said in a museum workers’ news release.

The impact on teaching artists may be even greater. Autumn said she had relied on the teaching artist position as part of her income for spring. When the program did not materialize on schedule, and she did not clock hours teaching lessons, her finances took a major hit.

“I've been in Oakland in the East Bay for many years — well over a decade,” Autumn said. “And I was forced to give my notice and my apartment because I couldn't afford the rent anymore.”

Autumn was moving into a home-share residence in Sonoma on Thursday when she spoke to the Index-Tribune.

Last week, leaders at the museum notified teaching artists of their classroom assignments, and teaching artists have began their lessons in Sonoma Valley schools, Autumn said.

But museum employees said the delay to the ARTS program plays into the larger efforts of the museum to stymie negotiating a contract with the unionized workers. Autumn said the museum only came to the bargaining table for a contract after the unfair labor practice case was filed.

“That's really when the lawyer (for the museum) started contacting us and they were initiating a bargaining conversation,” Autumn said. “We're all waiting, all of us have been in limbo and we haven't been able to get any answers until recently.”

Ultimately, the delay to the program may mean fewer students’ projects in the museum this April, and fewer students exposed to the influence of art overall, Autumn said.

“The kids are the ones that are suffering, because they are not getting the art that they need — the schools just don't have the funding for art, which is why going into the program to do this,” Autumn said. “So everybody loses.”

Contact Chase Hunter at and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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