“He has been draining this community of its power, and he has been taking away safety from women in this community for years” -a survivor
In the past year the Asheville Survivors Coalition has learned about where our community stands with regards to the sexual violence perpetrated by Jonas Gerard, a well-known Asheville artist who has been named in multiple incidents of assault both in and out of the workplace, as well as serious abuses of power.
This year we have learned who is willing to speak out, who is willing to take action, who is not, and why. In this article we will lay out the web of power and money that enables Gerard and has thus far shielded him from consequences.
We will also demonstrate that the threat Gerard poses is present and ongoing, not, as he has asserted, in the past and resolved.
First, some background about where we find ourselves in early 2019.
#believewomen is a hashtag that’s gotten popular lately.
It’s a fair assessment that most people are willing to “believe” the convenient fiction that no criminal conviction of an accused offender = no sexual violence happened. We say “believe” in quotes because it is clear no one really thinks this is true, yet it is accepted that it’s just standard operating procedure to protect predators and discount the accounts of survivors. That’s the program, and most people don’t buck it.
Because of rape culture and the institutional inability to believe, center and support survivors, it can unfortunately be an act of self harm to report to the authorities and/or one’s community. If safety is the goal, reporting or going public is often counter-effective. People like to say “innocent until proven guilty” in defense of those who are accused of harm, but every survivor who comes forward is second-guessed, and often tried and punished in the public. Every other person thinking of coming forward about harm done to them sees who is protected, who is not, and weighs the obvious consequences. It’s as if the two choices for survivors are silence or “here’s a bus to get under”. It’s not worth it to speak out, for most people. The cost is too high.
This is one reason why silence is the default. Belief is a commodity that is not given to everyone in equal supply. Which is why the #metoo movement, at its best, is so ground-breaking—each time someone speaks truth against the bewildering wall of power that remains taboo to name, we gain collective strength.
What we are discussing is what scholar and rape survivor Mandi Gray calls “the economy of silence”, wherein a vicious cycle occurs: victims’ silence (because of a variety of factors) and the ensuing lack of consequences is used as evidence to prove the absence of wrongdoing or lack of a general problem. The non-existence of a criminal conviction (the holy grail of those who second-guess survivors) is used as confirmation to demonstrate innocence of an accused perp in the public eye, and as the graphic above shows, in more than 99% of cases that is what happens.
We call this the “TANCC” cop-out, because “There Are No Criminal Convictions” is the rationale that is so often used as “proof” that no wrongdoing occurred.
The entire world recently witnessed a revolutionary act—the struggle of Christine Blasey Ford, as a survivor, to effect a non-confirmation for (then) Supreme Court nominee Justice Brett Kavanaugh to no avail. We sat by and watched a survivor’s life be irrevocably altered because she refused to remain silent about the sexual assault perpetrated by him. She was praised for her bravery, her eloquence and widely believed, but those aspects of her testimony were worthless. Kavanaugh was confirmed because predators are very often protected and absolved and we live in a rape culture that accepts this balance of power.
Many people said, “How is there no entity, no organization, that is protecting and advocating publicly for Blasey Ford? Why is she alone in so much danger and crowdfunding to hire her own security?”
Yet this is where so many of us find ourselves. Utterly isolated, with no security, against entities with much more power. Although some people are far more vulnerable than others, even those who are privileged can come up against this fundamental powerlessness, because it is a pervasive and structural problem. Patriarchal control and the subjugation of women and other vulnerable people is our social, economic, political and legal reality. Rape culture protects predators and tries to destroy survivors, while denying that there is a problem in the first place. Who gets to feel safe moving through the world, and talk about that openly, or not, is one of the main issues at stake.
We know, at Asheville Survivors Coalition, that locally there are many incidents of unreported rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, non-consensual drugging, significant abuses of power in the workplace, sexual harassment and other violence. This is most often against women and gender-various people, but it can happen to anyone. We know this because people have continually come forward to disclose their stories to us and ask for support.
Though it is an option, very few individuals decide to go public, or even semi-public, with their allegations of sexual violence. To do so risks ones safety, job, housing, finances, mental wellness, and social networks—in a relatively small city. It also alerts the world of one’s position of vulnerability in a time when self-protection is essential to well being. It is dangerous. It often complicates and compounds the trauma one has been through. It costs too much to speak up with the truth and seek justice when safety and healing is often the highest priority of a survivor.
Locally, the DA’s office under Todd Williams barely prosecutes cases of sexual violence. Every DA has discretion over what cases to aggressively pursue, and seeking those convictions is simply not a priority in Asheville. Lawyers who specialize in the field have altered their practices not to focus on these cases any longer because if the DA won’t prosecute, there is no case, and the field essentially disappears. It’s the same with sexual harassment; it’s very difficult to find a lawyer who will represent you. No lawyer, no DA to prosecute = no case. The priorities the DA’s office has set are reflective of the priorities of society at large.
Additionally, in North Carolina, more than 15,000 untested rape kits remain in police and crime labs’ storage facilities, according to a recent estimate by End the Backlog. Our state has the highest reported number of untested rape kits in the nation, according to the project. The website reads: “Rape kit testing sends a message to survivors that they—and their cases—matter. It sends a message to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their crimes. It also demonstrates a commitment to survivors to do everything possible to bring healing and justice.”
So even when one decides to report; the system as it exists undercuts that effort. This is why it’s so uninformed to say, “If these allegations were true, there would be charges and convictions against the offender.”
As proponents of transformative justice (the idea of taking the principles and practices of restorative justice beyond the criminal justice system) we see that the answers to safety and well being do not, can not, and will never rest with law enforcement and the broken court system. How could they, when the rate of domestic violence in police homes is 40%—which is to say violence against women and vulnerable people is endemic within law enforcement. In day to day reality, law enforcement and the court system accept this violence an omnipresent fact we have to contend with, not something that can be addressed and alleviated. The system is doing nothing to change the institutional violence we experience.
All of these realities inform the mechanics of our enforced silence. They are simultaneously what perpetrators know about and count on. This web of power and intimidation is very real, which is supported collectively by our legal and political system, by business networks and other economic powers, as well as social networks and the cultural refusal to believe, support, or make space for survivors.
We do not #believewomen (or most any survivors), and if we do, we can’t get our shit together to offer concrete support or solidarity that would make a difference.
ASC is working to change that. We are working to change these problems at their sources and to envision and enact alternatives.
Meanwhile, our local problems persist. ASC has focused for many months on the case of Jonas Gerard. This year, ten individuals spoke with us about their experiences of being harmed by Gerard. We presented the testimony of four of them to the public last January on this website as well as supporting documents to back up stories. (See more here and here.)
Additionally, ASC spoke this month with Ann Sharpsteen, Gerard’s former publicist, who confirmed that she has not been employed by his gallery since spring 2018. She said, “Working for him was not a good experience. It’s not a good workplace for women. Moving forward, Bo Carpenter is my attorney.” Robert “Bo” Carpenter is an Asheville attorney who specializes in employment law and civil litigation.
It is clear that Gerard has not—as he has previously maintained—reformed himself and changed his pattern of unsafe behavior towards women.
This year has been an exercise in discovery: how tightly do channels of power protect Jonas Gerard, a man the public generally acknowledges to be a serial sexual assaulter who openly abuses his position of power? Though this information is now public knowledge, the shifts that one might expect have in large part not occurred. Here is a rundown of what has occurred in the past year.
These businesses and organizations have removed Gerard’s art from their walls in the past year and a half (this list may not be comprehensive):
Mission Hospital CarePartners
Doubletree Hotel of Biltmore
NC Stage Company
Asheville Eye Associates
the office of David Graham
[unnamed local school]
Additionally, WNC Woman Magazine terminated an advertising contract with Jonas Gerard in spring 2018 because of public outcry. The Junior League of Asheville cancelled a fundraiser with Gerard in 2017, as did Hope Chest for Women in 2018.
Nonetheless, Gerard enjoys significant institutional support from many powerful entities.
The Asheville Chamber of Commerce continues to support Gerard at their private events, using his paintings monthly at raffles at their After Hours party to raise funds. Gerard and his employee Allen Brasington are fixtures at the Chamber, and have not been made to feel unwelcome, even as the Chamber simultaneously holds expensive events promoting #metoo in the business community with panel discussions about how to end sexual violence in the workplace.
Cramer has publicly said that the Chamber is taking the middle ground, invoking the ‘There Are No Criminal Convictions’ copout. They have removed Gerard’s art that was on loan to the Chamber yet kept Gerard’s art that was donated to the Chamber (and is presumably an asset that is rapidly dwindling in value).
It is dishonest of Kramer to invoke the TANCC copout, because she privately met with a survivor of Jonas Gerard (who is also a Chamber member) last April who personally asked that the Chamber remove all of Gerard’s art. Cramer said she did not want to hear that survivor’s experience working for Gerard—that it would not make a difference in the Chamber’s stance. She told this survivor her story did not matter.
We have some questions for Kit Cramer and the Chamber at large: how easy is it to take art off a wall to show you #believewomen and support survivors, as the primary entity representing businesses in Asheville? Do you have so little respect for survivors that you refuse to take even that simple step? Do you care that women-owned businesses make up a sizable proportion of your membership? Why do you choose to protect a publicly acknowledged predator, socialize with him, yet simultaneously hold #metoo events for profit?
The Chamber of Commerce should be excoriated by every woman, survivor, and their supporters in Asheville for publicly using the language of #metoo to self-promote, yet insisting on the public display of art and the social and institutional protection of a confirmed predator while privately playing hardball and screwing over a survivor who was courageous enough to come forward to share her personal story. We call on every business that #believeswomen to resign from the Chamber until they take appropriate actions to rectify their wrongs.
Those that wish to can contact Kit Cramer, CEO of the Chamber at 828.258.6123 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to cc email@example.com in your communications so we can keep a record.
The Asheville Regional Airport is another entity whose close support of Gerard has not flagged. They have an ongoing exhibition of his paintings as part of a financial arrangement with his gallery—he pays for the wall space that everyone who flies into the airport, including survivors, has difficulty avoiding.
ASC has raised awareness about the Asheville Airport and their agreement with Gerard. We have been notified of hundreds of complaints sent to the Asheville Area Airport about their exhibition of Gerard’s artwork. They continue to report to individuals that they have received no complaints, even though there is a petition with publicly signed names about the matter. Their board met about the matter early last year and ultimately decided to keep taking Gerard’s money for the wall space, but change the contract to a month-to-month status instead of year long in case they need to end it quickly. The art remains up as a display of welcome into the City of Asheville. You can contact the airport Executive Director, Lew Bleiweis at 828.684.2226 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to cc email@example.com in your communications so we can keep a record.
In May of 2018 a survivor of Jonas Gerard met with the board of RADA, the River Arts District Artists Association, to implore them to remove Gerard from their membership on grounds supported by their bylaws. Yet the board listened to her testimony of a traumatic event that deeply affected her life and did nothing, citing fear of lawsuits from Gerard. RADA may also find it easier to remain silent while enjoying the thousands of dollars of free River Arts District promotion from the prominent billboard downtown on Patton Avenue which uses the RAD logo but is paid for by Gerard and features a rotation of his art. [Note: the billboard has been removed as of January 3, 2019]
The survivor who presented her story to the RADA board had a very unsatisfactory experience, in particular with one board member, Shelley Schenker, who was the board president in recent years and still sits on the board as an acting member.
The survivor explains, “That she [Schenker] was the former president of the board explains to me the board’s inaction in the past about Mr. Gerard’s behavior, given that she openly declared to be a ‘Jonas supporter’ and then later on described other victims’ accounts as ‘piles of shit’. Ms. Schenker had thinly veiled hostility towards victims/survivors of Mr. Gerard’s as a whole from what I observed at our meeting. Again, I reference her own words where she complemented my ‘eloquence’ and that it was getting lost in all the other victim accounts that she described as ‘piles of shit’.”
Schenker has shared her repellent views widely, as can be seen in these messages leaked to the ASC:
At this meeting to hear from a survivor, the rest of the RADA board allowed Schenker’s words to stand. The guest was highly distressed and had to leave the meeting early. Two board members resigned soon after the meeting; the remainder took only one action: to send the survivor a gift certificate, for use in the River Arts District. They made no public statement, and took no public or private steps of which we are aware to put checks on the power of Jonas Gerard.
As this survivor put it: “The money and the influence that he wields are what’s protecting him.”
A public statement by by RADA last year, released to the Mountain Xpress by then board president Chalkley Matlack says, “We aspire to be a safe space free of discrimination, harassment, abuse or other factors that do not contribute to a healthy environment.” It would seem that RADA has deeply failed at this objective first by having Shelley Schenker on their board, and then by doing nothing to stem the tide of assaults by their chosen neighborhood representative. You can join ASC in asking RADA to formally rescind Jonas Gerard’s membership.
A former longtime employee of Jonas Gerard Fine Art met with ASC last spring and detailed the machinations they went through to keep their co-workers safe at Gerard’s galleries.
They said: “I made it my personal mission, with every new hire, to say something to them, because it’s the art world and people come in starry-eyed: ‘Know that there has been a high turnover rate, and lots of allegations. Be aware if you’re going to set yourself up alone [with Gerard], be aware and protect yourself. If you want to be here, know that there are history and patterns.’”
After ASC announced ourselves publicly a year ago and began a high-profile response to Gerard’s activities, a leak from his office confirmed that his business hired a Memphis-based private investigator, Lisa Akin, to attempt to discover our identities. In her investigations, she came up with questions about Allen Brasington, Gerard’s present employee and former auctioneer who has a pages-long rap sheet including multiple felonies for narcotics, repetitive DWI convictions, and financial fraud. Brasington conducts (or conducted, because the gallery has reportedly ceased this activity) the auctions that the business holds to raise money for themselves and organizations.
We have compiled Brasington’s criminal record below. This list may not be complete.
The legality of the auctions at JGFA, going back years, is in dispute. According to the state board of auctioneers, they are very possibly illegal, because such events are tightly controlled in North Carolina and any auctioneer must hold a state license. Brasington has not held one for some time and auctions at JGFA have taken place through 2018. The private investigator Lisa Akin was reportedly fired after she raised questions about these matters, and according to our sources, Gerard’s office did not pay her invoices.
Also in 2018, a representative from Gerard’s office reportedly went to the FBI to try to gain leverage over a former worker with allegations of sexual assault who would not sign an NDA (non disclosure agreement) and was asking for money. An agent looked into the matter and also came up mainly with questions about Allen Brasington’s lengthy criminal record. Brasington reportedly would not respond to their questioning and the matter was dropped.
Where does the media come into all of this? They have mostly been too intimidated by the legalities involving a powerful and well-supported business entity to cover these events with the attention they deserve.
After ASC’s initial protest in December 2017, the Asheville Citizen-Times ran a story that, in effect, provided a platform for Gerard to defend himself. They printed his full statement as it was released. They ran the story without speaking to any survivors.
Thomas Calder wrote a story about the matter in March 2018 for the Mountain Xpress and spoke with two survivors, both of whom were willing to go on the record. The editorial department cut those testimonies from the story, saying they could not be reported on because “There Are No Criminal Convictions”. In his story (“Asheville Too: Arts community tackles taboo topic”, March 9, 2018) Calder stated: “Xpress reached out to more than 35 artists and building owners in the RAD seeking comment on sexual misconduct and the community’s response to it. Fourteen declined to weigh in; only four agreed to go on the record. The rest did not respond.”
This is the aforementioned economy of silence—locally, in numbers.
Casey Blake at the Citizen-Times followed up to do a piece after ASC protested at a Chamber of Commerce #metoo event in May 2018, but mainly decided to interview Gerard (which reporters seem to accept means interviewing Allen Brasington) to give him an opportunity to speak his side, as if his side hadn’t already been broadcasted in her publication. She neglected to speak to the survivors that she requested we connect her with, and the piece never ran. She did not leave word as to why and didn’t respond to our follow up inquiry.
David Forbes of the Asheville Blade is the sole reporter that has covered the matter with both fact-based reporting and a published interview with a survivor. Forbes wrote about the NDAs, non-disclosure agreements or “gag orders” drawn up by Gerard’s lawyer, Jonathan Yarbrough of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP in a story last April (‘Broken silence‘). Nota bene: Michelle Rippon, also of Yarborough’s law firm represents the board of the Chamber of Commerce, who have supported Gerard so closely.
Perhaps the media will now want to cover the matter of Ann Sharpsteen, Gerard’s former publicist, who defended him last year as allegations against him became public. She has now publicly renounced her former position and, as previously mentioned, hired legal representation, saying, “The whole mess just disgusts me.”
A cynic might observe that the question most important to Asheville movers and shakers is not—“How do we make our city safer?” but “Did I wait too long to sell my Jonas Gerard painting to avoid massive depreciation in its value?”
The answer to that question may be–yes.
“When should I cut ties with Gerard to both maximize the benefits from my association with him until the last possible moment yet generate good PR for my ‘support’ for survivors?” also seems to be a question on many individuals’ minds. (The Chamber of Commerce has decided it’s possible to pretend to do these simultaneously which is eyebrow raising.)
Why does this continue? People not deeply familiar with the situation ask, how can one artist have the power to keep so many people silent? Why is it so important to these entities to protect him and his legally compromised associates?
The bottom line is that, in cash-poor Asheville, the money that he generates (which is not that much in the scheme of things) in his neighborhood, to various organizations and the like is more important to many–or most–than publicly acknowledging there is an unsafe workplace and an individual doing significant and documented harm against many people, and taking steps to stop it. Commerce is simply more important and Asheville has agreed to be bought off for cheap. As RADA board member Shelley Schenker said in private communications seen above, “Do you think that revenge of a few individuals should come before the economic welfare of more than 200 artists and business owners?” Clearly, as the chips have fallen, many agree with Schenker whether they would like to admit it or not.
We continue to move ahead in 2019. Many survivors have come forward to us. We support each other, advocate for each other, and work in various ways against abuses of power in our community. We are actively gathering information about harmful workplaces, business owners and individuals and we are available to take action about these abuses of power.
We can and will address these situations. We expect consequences for Jonas Gerard and many others in turn.
We have many community business partners and local organizations who support us and our work. We are building our capacity and will continue to ensure that each month and year brings us a safer community where we have each other’s backs. We will not be silent, we will continue to do our work, and we are here to stay. We invite you to work with us to make our city safer. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if there is a matter we can assist with.