In early July, after six months of increasingly strained relations, the board of directors of the Center for International Performance and Exhibition (CIPEX), which governs the nonprofit arts and culture venue HotHouse, suspended founder and executive director Marguerite Horberg without pay. Horberg and the board had fallen out over HotHouse's impending transition to a dual-leadership structure--she was to remain executive director, handling programming and fund-raising, and a business director was to be hired to take over other day-to-day operations. Her suspension provoked a flurry of media coverage and online argument, much of it framing the conflict as a face-off between Horberg and board president Martin Bishop, but both parties have been publicly silent since then.
Plenty has been going on behind the scenes, though. In late August the board hired business director Marc Harris. In early September two of Horberg's allies on the board, Bruce Robbins and Angela Spinazze, resigned their posts. And on September 14, at the board's next monthly meeting, its remaining members voted unanimously to approve a motion Bishop describes as "acknowledging the end of Horberg's employment relationship" with HotHouse.
"The board just took the action it thought was in the best interest of the organization, which was to formally end the relationship and communicate that to her," says Bishop. "It's not really a surprise that HotHouse and Marguerite won't be working together anymore. She publicly stated that the way the board is currently constituted, she doesn't want to work with the organization anyway--that was her position." Since her suspension Horberg has had no official contact with the board except through her attorneys, and she chose not to comment for this story.
Though Horberg appears unlikely to fight her dismissal in court, Bishop says the board has "100 percent confidence in any legal position we would have to take" in the event of a lawsuit. In an interview for the Reader this summer, Horberg claimed to own HotHouse's sound system and bar equipment as well as other furnishings, but Bishop is confident that issue can be resolved without a struggle. "If HotHouse owes Marguerite anything," he says, "Marguerite will get it."
Horberg also claimed that her departure would cost HotHouse many of its sponsors, grants, and contributors, which together provide about a fifth of its budget, but so far Bishop says he's seen no evidence of that. "We're looking forward to talking directly with all our funders. We've talked with some already, and we've certainly answered inquiries," he says. "But no, we haven't noticed any mass exodus. Nobody has expressed their desire to stop funding us among those who historically have. In fact, it's been the opposite. As I thought before, people have supported HotHouse because of the programs and the product it presents, not because of any one person. So that's very encouraging."
In August, once it became clear Horberg wasn't coming back, the board turned its attention to the hiring of a business director. Hundreds of people applied, and 12 were ultimately interviewed; the board settled on Harris, most recently director of finance for the League of Chicago Theatres. (He's also held a similar position at the Museum of African American History in Detroit and teaches part-time in the business school at Robert Morris College.) He started the job in early September and says he's still assessing the organization's financial health. "I've been looking at business processes and practices and am trying to build in accountability for staff to create fiscal responsibility," he says. "That's where I always like to start. Once we can ensure those efficiencies, then we make decisions on how our future growth should be."
According to Bishop, the search for Horberg's replacement won't begin until the new year. For the time being, the same people who worked with Horberg to maintain HotHouse's artistic direction are staying on: David Chavez, who books the music; Russell Watson, who curates the venue's art gallery; and Michilla Blaise, who does community outreach and events planning. "They're very capable of handling things," says Bishop. "They've essentially been guiding the direction of HotHouse for a long time anyway. And everything has been running smoothly."
HotHouse is beginning work on its budget for 2007, and Bishop says a big short-term goal is to produce more off-site shows. "We've brought a lot of artists to Chicago that we've incubated for years, and we've helped them grow in the local market and even nationally," he says. "Many of them want to get in front of bigger audiences, but we haven't had the financial resources to do off-site concerts and brand those shows with our name--whether it's at Millennium Park, Ravinia, or the Chicago Theatre. We want to get into a financial position where we can do more of that and maintain relationships with those artists." CIPEX also turns 20 next year, and the board wants to have a series of celebrations. "We're planning for that now," says Bishop, "and we'd like to make a big splash."
Most important for HotHouse, he says, is that the turmoil of the past few months has subsided. "I remarked on that during the last board meeting," says Bishop. "I can tell you that it's been the toughest six months of my professional life. And everybody echoed that sentiment. It's been difficult, but we all know we did the right thing for the institution and its future. We're looking forward now, we're not looking back."
Funning With the Devil
Quasar Wut Wut
When Fri 9/22, 10 PM
1354 W. Wabansia
Price $10 in advance, $12 at the door
For most of the past year, local crypto-Christian new-wave oddballs Detholz! have been working on a new album with producer Griffin Rodriguez (aka Blue Hawaii), both at Rax Trax in Lakeview and at the Shape Shoppe in the South Loop, where Rodriguez runs a studio. The band's previous release, last year's Jukebox of the Dead, was a covers LP ("Sussudio," "Hot for Teacher"), but the new one, Cast Out Devils, is a collection of originals. The album's due October 31 on the band's own Vortex Corporation label, and the seventh annual Detholz! "Jukebox of the Dead" Halloween show--October 28 at the Empty Bottle--will double as a release party. In the weeks before and after the show, the group will play a handful of regional dates and appear at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York; a national tour is in the works for early 2007. The band headlines the Hideout this Friday, and Cast Out Devils can be preordered now at detholz.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostatni, Joe Wigdahl.