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Drama at the Library ~ Prominent L.A. Writers Slam Foundation For Hiring New Director From New York

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he Los Angeles Library Foundation on Wednesday announced the hiring of a new programming director, weeks after the organization became enmeshed in a controversy over the firings of two previous longtime directors at the library, Louise Steinman and Maureen Moore.

Jessica Strand, founder of the events platform Dear America, is now the Director of Public Programs at the library foundation. She was previously an associate director of public programming at The New York Public Library.

Strand's appointment fills a vacancy left open after Steinman and Moore were let go on Aug. 27. Steinman launched the foundation's celebrated ALOUD program 25 years ago. Moore was an experienced associate director.

The day after their abrupt departures, L.A. Taco published a story showing the foundation made no public effort to draw attention to unfair treatment of two library-commissioned artists from Oaxaca, Mexico, at the hands immigration authorities in San Francisco. The artists of the Tlacolulokos collective were denied reentry to the United States for five years, even as their mural decorated the downtown Central Library rotunda, drawing media coverage from The New York Times and others — artwork that was expressly related to themes of migration and displacement.

It was unclear if the personnel change was related to the Tlacolulokos case, but privately, observers and friends of the departed directors said it was not.

The library has declined to comment further on the personnel changes.

"Any further details are a private employment matter and the Library Foundation does not comment on private employment matters," Leah Price, the ALOUD communications director, told L.A. Taco after the firings.

The murals dealt with migration, but when its artists were deported, the foundation remained silent.
The Tlacolulokos murals provide a thematic counterpoint to the traditional depiction of California history in the 20th Century murals above, by Dean Cornwell. Photos by Daniel Hernandez.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he departures were met with widespread criticism from the city's literary and artistic community. In September, some 800 local artists and writers — including prominent figures like Pulitzer Prize-winning USC professor Viet Thanh Nguyen — signed a petition in support of Moore and Steinman, and ALOUD.

The community seemed incensed at the treatment the women received; reports said they were immediately escorted from the central library on the day they were told their positions were being eliminated. In an Oct. 4 essay for L.A. Times Books, poet Rigoberto Gonzalez, who had recently moderated an ALOUD event, wrote of his impressions of foundation chief Ken Brecher during a subsequent meeting.

"He spoke incessantly about the library’s programming and its important components, a kind of sales pitch that came across as an anxious tic rather than pre-event small talk," Gonzalez said.

In response to the Jessica Strand announcement, a grassroots ad hoc committee in support of ALOUD released another statement this week, slamming Brecher for a lack of transparency at the LALF, and on hiring someone from New York to fill the positions left by Moore and Steinman.

The signees include prominent authors Hector Tobar, Lynell George, and David Ulin.

"We asked the Library Foundation for transparency, accountability and voice in the future of ALOUD. We have received none of those," the statement said. "The hiring of a new programs director from New York raises yet more questions about the Library Foundation’s commitment to this community, to diversity and to honest dialog about its vision."

Separately, L.A. author and professor Ruben Martinez published an open letter to Brecher, calling on him to resign: "You are compensated at the rate of $440,00 per year, twice the amount the secretary general of the United Nations. There is no room for that kind of greed in public service ..." Martinez went on to call Strand's hiring a "slap in the face."

"She knows nothing of our communities and desires," he said.

When asked on Thursday if the foundation would have any response to the new ad hoc statement calling for transparency on the Strand hire, Price, the foundation spokeswoman, had a one-word response: "No."

RELATED: These Oaxacan Muralists Brought Indigenous Flavor to the Central Library; Now They Are Deported ~ An Exclusive

* Updated.

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