HarborArts Founder Responds to Controversy

April 30, 2014
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East Boston HarborArts founder Steve Israel is responding to the controversy surrounding alleged financial improprieties by the non-profit’s Executive Director Matt Pollock.

The East Boston Times reported that some board members have accused Pollock of manipulating the funds and misappropriating the bookkeeping at HarborArts. This development has led to the resignation of several key board members, including board members Marie Cornuelle and Laura Elsen, managing director of HarborArts. The two former board members, who recently resigned, took HarborArts’ bank statements and other documents they found in the HarborArts office to the District 7 East Boston Police station for examination due to the serious nature of their discoveries.

Boston Police confirmed there is currently an active investigation.

In a letter Israel wrote that he wanted to respond to the confusion created by Cornuelle and Elsen who made their accusations public.

“Five years ago a few of us had an idea to start an arts organization on the harbor here in East Boston to encourage local artists, to provide a space along the water where art, large and small, could be displayed in an outdoor setting, and to generate enthusiasm and support for the arts in the entire community by holding events and festivals to celebrate our creativity,” wrote Israel. “We started Harbor Arts and have run it on a shoe string. No one has ever received a salary and through the hard work and dedication of so many people, we have been able to accomplish a lot of what we set out to do.”

Israel said art has been made and displayed, artists encouraged, and festivals, music and food have been offered to the community in a beautiful setting.

“We have received tremendous feedback and encouragement, and the many people who have worked so hard have a lot to be proud of,” wrote Israel. “Recently, two individuals decided that there have been some improprieties in the way Harbor Arts has been managed. Rather than work with us to get to the bottom of their allegations and find out the truth, they went public and have done great damage to our organization.”

However, Israel said he has taken their concerns seriously and begun to try to determine, what, if any, validity there may be to what they say.

“So far, we believe that our very limited funds have been properly handled,” wrote Israel. “Arts organizations, like Harbor Arts, are inherently fragile. They depend on the good will and generosity of the community in order to survive, let alone grow and thrive. They often operate at a level of creative disorganization run by volunteers with little management experience.” Israel added that when individuals feel aggrieved and make sweeping allegations without a full understanding of the truth, great damage and destruction would often be the result.

“We believe in Harbor Arts and will continue to look into everything that has been said,” he wrote. “Meanwhile, we will continue to love and encourage the arts and artists in East Boston.”

The fallout from the allegation against Pollock drove Mic Billingsley from the Peabody Essex Museum to resign from the board of directors as did Rachel Edwards from the Winn Co. along with Jessica Rothschuh.