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Valley Forum: Museum identity inseparable from ‘Valley’

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As one of the founders of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, it was distressing to me to read the recent article regarding a proposed name change for the museum (“Museum May Drop ‘Valley’ from Name,” March 6). It was also surprising.

I am privileged with the title of “President Emeritus” for the time and effort I spent helping to organize, buy and build the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. I served on the organizing committee, its Board of Directors, and the Advisory Council for many years. Until I received the notice of the annual General Meeting of the SVMA, I was unaware a name change was being considered. It’s hard for me to imagine that there is “broad support” for this idea, as Linda Keaton stated in the Index-Tribune last week, when no one in the general membership with whom I have spoken, including former founding board members, had any idea this was going on.

This lack of communication is truly unfortunate. The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art was formed as a “Public Benefit Not for Profit, Membership Organization.” The changes asked for by the Board require membership approval, but no rationale has been provided to the membership so that we can make an informed decision.

There is a well-known organizational effect of founders believing that subsequent administrations are doing everything wrongly. I readily confess a deep affection for the SVMA, and also admit I have some differences regarding decisions that have been made since my tenure. I do realize that all organizations must continue to develop and grow, and sometimes that growth creates conflicts among well-meaning individuals with differing approaches. But among the duties of all directors is to preserve the assets of the organization which they serve.

Since its inception the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art has sought to be a regional center for visual-arts programming. I believe it is succeeding in that aspiration. We have drawn participants as exhibitors, as visitors and as supporters from the larger Bay Area and beyond, and have even drawn national media attention for some of our programming and planning decisions. The name has obviously not been a limiting factor. It is, in fact, a valuable asset.

Sonoma Valley enjoys a world-wide reputation for its hospitality, history and appreciation of beautiful things, including wine, food, architecture and art. Jack London, Maya Angelou, MFK Fisher and many others have lived and worked here and created meaningful, significant works. It was an easy choice to make to put that pride of place into the name of the museum.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the SVMA and is an appropriate time to look back at how far we have come and look forward to what we can become. I do not believe it is time to shed its identity and association with Sonoma Valley.

I will be attending the annual General Membership meeting March 15 at 5 p.m. I will be voting “no” when asked to amend the Articles of Incorporation and urge other members of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art to do the same. If other members cannot attend but wish to retain the name, please name me as your proxy on the form provided by the museum or stop by my studio at 148 E. Napa St., Sonoma and I will provide a form.

Jim Callahan is a metal sculptor living in the Sonoma Valley and a founding member of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.