Larnie Fox to step down, focus on artArts Benicia Executive Director Larnie Fox announced via the nonprofit’s monthly newsletter that he will retire from that position effective March 15.
In an interview Monday, Fox told The Herald that he made the decision to retire last June, “but I didn’t tell anybody except my wife.”
The nonprofit’s board has known about his retirement plans since late last year, he said, but he held off on announcing it publicly until the beginning of 2015.
Fox has been Arts Benicia’s executive director since May 18, 2010. He said he is proud of many accomplishments.
“There were major goals that I can say we accomplished together,” he said, such as “maintaining and expanding Arts Benicia’s reputation as a regional art center, at the same time supporting local artists and making the organization a bit more welcoming to the community.”
Fox said the nonprofit’s finances are on better footing than when he started. “Tracking the financial things is a lot more sophisticated that in was. We’ve gotten a few major grants … the one from the Community Sustainability Commission, the one from the Creative Work Fund.”
But, he said, the most important thing about his tenure at Arts Benicia was always the art.
“I think the ABAiR (Arts Benicia Artists in Residence) program is a really important program that I started. It (gave) people working in site-specific installations a real chance to work out their ideas in our gallery.
“A couple shows that we did with the Community Sustainability Commission grant were wonderful,” he continued. “We had ‘Vessels’ in 2013 and ‘Altered Landscapes’ in 2014. I’m really proud of two shows.
“Arts Benicia and I have made a lot of friends in Benicia, and I feel those friendships are going to stay intact both for me and for the organization when I am no longer director.
“It’s the people who really make the organization, and there are some really interesting and wonderful people that I hope to stay in touch with and I’m counting on them to keep supporting the organization and the community as a whole.”
The experience was not without challenges, Fox said, many of which centered around funding.
“When the city cut our funding, that was really scary,” he said. “It set up this pattern that we had to deal with for three years before the major grants came in … which was we would run out of money before the auction. So we had to do emergency appeals, board members were asked to loan money.”
At one point, even Fox loaned money to Arts Benicia.
“It was people scraping up enough to get us through August and September so we could get our income from the auction. That was always a challenge.”
Fox said the nonprofit’s brighter fiscal picture is partly because of the work of administrative coordinator Peg Jackson. “There are not that many people around who are very good at keeping the complexities of the bookkeeping of an nonprofit. We are very lucky to have her.”
He also praised Mary Shaw for her skills at installing shows. “She’s amazing with installation and working with artists. There’s so many things that go into putting a show together that looking at a show would never occur to you,” he said.
And he said Johanna Kahn was instrumental in helping boost Arts Benicia’s finances by managing its end-of-year appeal. “Our goal was $5,000 … She managed it (the appeal) and we brought in $8,000,” Fox said.
He said he plans to advise but not participate directly in the process of finding his successor. “But that could change,” he said.
He said he wants to be sure that whomever is chosen is a “real arts professional, that they really understand visual arts, either as an artist, a curator, or somebody who has worked with artists and art for a long time,” he said. “Maintaining that part is absolutely essential.”
Fox said running the nonprofit has always been a challenge, “and it’s going to be a challenge. The community needs to step up and make some changes in our local government to fund the arts, not just us but the arts in general. As a city government and as individual donors supporting the arts, and businesses/corporate sponsors … these three pieces are absolutely essential.
“Otherwise we’re not going to have an Arts Benicia, not as we know it. We might have a group of volunteers doing something but we’re not going to have a regional, well-respected art center that benefits our schools, our kids, and seniors who are taking classes, and the community to be inspired and uplifted. That can go away without support. That must continue on all three fronts.”
While he is retiring from Arts Benicia, Fox isn’t retiring as an artist.
“The main thing is, I want to spend a lot more time in my studio. That’s the biggest thing. I’ve never given myself a chance to be a working artist. Here’s my chance.”