Former SFA art gallery director says politics cost him his job

BEAUMONT, TX (News Release) - By Donna McCollum - email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - If former SFA arts gallery director Christian Cutler could rewind to early August, he would probably handle a request he got from Congressman Louie Gohmert's office a bit differently.

"They asked me to jury an art competition," Cutler said. "They mentioned Tyler, Texas and that I would probably travel to Tyler to jury the show. I said, Great, I would love to do it."

Then Cutler saw Anderson Cooper and the congressman go at it over the so-called, terror-babies.

Cutler changed his mind and told the aide so when she called back in late August.

"She stopped me and said, 'Why?' and I said I really don't want to associate myself with Congressman Gohmert and I felt he was a sensationalist and from recent information via the Web and television I felt like he was a fear monger," Cutler said.

Cutler says ten days later he got a personal letter from Gohmert that had been copied to SFA President Baker Patillo.

"I disagree with what you say," Cutler said, reading the letter. "I'm very sorry your sources of information are so limited in their view, but will defend to the death my right to be misinformed."

In addition, the letter referred to not a juried art show in Tyler, but SFA actually hosting a regional high school competition.

"If I had that knowledge I certainly would have accepted the offer," Cutler said.

Cutler offered an apology, but it wasn't accepted. Cutler says he was not fired, but allowed to resign to obtain numerous letters of recommendation from the dean and faculty members. The art community rallied too.

"I'm sick about it," former director Eliose Adams said. "It will be a loss to SFA and the community."

Now Cutler frantically searches for a job to support his family. All the while remembering a powerful lesson.

"Maybe keeping those personal opinions to myself," he said.

Gohmert released the following statement:

"I did not ask nor desire that the  Director of Art Galleries be dismissed and am not aware of all of the reasons for his dismissal.  He, as the director at Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) consented months ago to host the Congressional Art Competition.  Tyler Junior College has done an extraordinary job as gracious host of this contest for the last 5 years. However, the President at Stephen F. Austin State University has repeatedly asked that we host things there. So we had the director's prior personal consent to host the contest at SFA this fall.

As we followed up, he was not being asked to be a judge, but was asked for a date that we could set up the student's art there, have judges from various schools review it, and make a presentation to the winners at SFA. This prestigious competition allows outstanding high school students to showcase their artistic talents and vie for an opportunity to have their artwork displayed in our nation's capital in Washington, DC. The winner also receives a scholarship to Savannah College of Art and Design. From the university's standpoint, it is an excellent recruiting tool and gives a chance to showcase the college to the exemplary high school students.

His recent response was, in essence, that he wanted nothing to do with anything with which I was involved. That response went against his own word and against the desire his President had previously expressed. As a result, we were forced to find another university in the congressional district to host the competition and are thrilled that Kilgore College is so pleased to be hosting it this year. I did not know he would be fired, did not seek it, and do not know all of the reasons for it. If the things he is misrepresenting now are any indication of past performance, then his actions in this incident may have been the least of his employment problems."

Copyright 2010 KTRE. All rights reserved.