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BALLET ARKANSAS GOES TO COURT.

IN AN UNUSUAL development for a dance company, a group of parents and patrons are facing off against the board of directors in a dispute over the leadership of Ballet Arkansas and its school.

The board dismissed its artistic director and his wife, a principal dancer with the company and director of its academy. The parents and ballet patrons filed a Freedom of Information Act request this spring in Arkansas Circuit Court, asking the company's board of directors to reveal its reasons for dismissing artistic director Kirt Hathaway and his wife, Linda. The court rejected the plaintiffs' request May 18. The Hathaways, who came to Ballet Arkansas in 1992, ran the company and an academy for over 200 students until their contracts, which expired June 30, were not renewed.

Marilyn Sutton, a member of a Little Rock parents and patrons group, said the group filed the request because the board gave no explanation for terminating the Hathaways and refused to relinquish all the company's financial records and the minutes from its meetings.

"We have been protective of the employees by not giving out their information," countered Ballet Arkansas board president Amy Stewart. She would not say whether the board's decision was motivated by artistic or financial concerns, saying only that a new artistic director was "necessary in every way."

In January, the sixteen-member board voted unanimously not to renew the Hathaways' contract. After the board informed the Hathaways of its decision in February, its members met with ballet supporters in the Ballet Arkansas Guild and announced that the Hathaways had resigned. Attorney Rita Looney, who represents Sutton, said that shortly thereafter, 185 parents and patrons who believed that the Hathaways were actually fired signed a letter to the board demanding that its members resign.

Sutton has alleged that the company's remaining dancers, none of whom will return next season, refused to sign new contracts until they learned who their new bosses would be and how many hours they would be required to teach in return for the salaries they had been offered. Stewart dismissed that claim, saying that the dancers had indicated they were leaving for personal reasons unrelated to the Hathaways, and that since the company is so small, dancers typically consider it a temporary address.

Because Ballet Arkansas is a nonprofit company, Sutton believes it is obligated to comply with the FOIA request. But the board filed a response in court asserting that the FOIA did not apply. Though the company receives money from the Arkansas Arts Council, a state agency, the FOIA applies to organizations whose operations are more thoroughly intertwined with government, Stewart said, and "teaching and promoting awareness of ballet is not the business of government."

Some guild members, in email and letters to the local newspaper, expressed admiration for the Hathaways' work and took exception to the board's explanation that personnel changes were meant to expand the company's artistic opportunities. Additionally, Ballet Arkansas founding director Lorraine Cranford, in a statement to Dance Magazine, said that she was not asked to participate in, nor did she agree with, the decision to remove the Hathaways. According to Sutton, the board cut the budget for an April performance, but Sheila McGinnis, Ballet Arkansas' administrative director, indicated that the budget had been amended to include the cost of pointe shoes, which Kirt Hathaway had not included in the original budget. In a statement to Dance Magazine, Kirt Hathaway said the board told Regional Dance America Southwest that they blamed declining ticket sales on a "poor quality product," and, he believes, made him a scapegoat for financial mismanagement of the company.

After the meeting between the board and the guild, Sutton said, "We started looking into things, and we found more than we ever wanted to know." According to Sutton, those discoveries included a $25,000 check that an elderly patron sent to the company last September and which went uncashed for a few months until it was put into a certificate of deposit instead of an endowment fund as the patron had requested.

Additionally, Sutton asserted that the guild discovered tax violations after viewing the company's IRS Form 990s, which nonprofit agencies use to determine what taxes they must pay. In addition to the company's annual financial audits from 1992 to 1998, the plaintiffs hope that the FOIA request will gain them access to information about individual board members and a list of all contributions to Ballet Arkansas. As for finding out why the Hathaways were fired, McGinnis said that the couple had not authorized the board of directors to open their personnel file, and that questions about their departure would be best directed to the Hathaways themselves.

Stewart said that because it had received "several outstanding" applications, the board hoped to announce a new artistic director in the coming months.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:artistic directors dismissal
Author:Wisner, Heather
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Words:803
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