Asheville’s favorite predator, Jonas Gerard, must go in 2019

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“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.

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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):

Mountain BizWorks

Mission Hospital CarePartners

YWCA

Riverlink

Hotel Indigo

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.

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At an “After Hours” Chamber of Commerce event in summer 2018

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?

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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.

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Kit Cramer, CEO of the Asheville Chamber with Jonas Gerard and Allen Brasington in 2017

Those that wish to can contact Kit Cramer, CEO of the Chamber at 828.258.6123 and kcramer@ashevillechamber.org. Feel free to cc empoweravl@gmail.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 eheywood@flyavl.com. Feel free to cc empoweravl@gmail.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]

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Defaced billboard advertising the RAD and bearing a Jonas Gerard painting, Patton Avenue, Downtown Asheville

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.

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Seen on Asheville Craigslist

“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 empoweravl@gmail.com if there is a matter we can assist with.

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Asheville Chamber of Commerce uses #MeToo for self promotion while hobnobbing with serial harasser

This Monday the Asheville Chamber of Commerce is hosting a event called “Woman Up: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace”, an informational workshop that charges a hefty $30 a head for the purpose of encouraging safe local workplaces. Yet they flat out refuse to take down art in their building by alleged serial harasser Jonas Gerard, even after being personally asked to, as recently as this past month, by survivors who formerly worked at his studio.

 

It seems simple: if you have the stated goal of furthering safe workplaces for women, don’t promote the work of someone facing serious multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. Don’t disregard the wishes of survivors affected by the individual in question. Do everything you can to prevent very real, ongoing harm towards women in workplaces known to be unsafe.

But possibly the Chamber enjoys partying with Jonas Gerard and receiving his donated paintings for auctions too much to respect survivors’ wishes?

 

Let the Chamber know what you think about their conditional support for survivors. Tell Kit Cramer to “woman up” and do the right thing: stop covering for problematic business owners. Her contact: 828.258.6123 kcramer@ashevillechamber.org

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Kit Cramer,  CEO of Asheville Chamber of Commerce

ASC formally asks RADA Board to rescind Jonas Gerard’s membership

April 2018

To The River Arts District Artists Association Board of Directors:

We write to you today to express our heartfelt disappointment in your response as an organization to the allegations of sexual harassment and assault by River Arts District resident and “member in good standing” of RADA, Jonas Gerard. The time for silence has passed. As artists, we must ensure the long term health and viability of our community by not enabling abuse and harm. In the Mountain Xpress’ March 9th article, titled, “Asheville Too: Arts Community Tackles Taboo Topic,” Mr. Chalkley Matlack, RADA Board President, explained the organization’s commitment to, “…aspire to be a safe space free of discrimination, harassment, abuse or other factors that do not contribute to a healthy environment”. The allegations and testimony against Jonas Gerard consisting of sexual misconduct and violence are entirely incompatible with this statement, as well as the RADA bylaws. We will not let this stand.

We use the word “allegation” to describe those things that are in dispute, or that haven’t yet been proven in a legal context. But let’s consider the facts, points of information that no one is denying:

  • Three complaints were filed with the EEOC in 2014 and 2015, reporting improper contact with female employees.
  • Criminal sexual battery charges were filed against Gerard in 2015.
  • Suit was settled in a “civil agreement” outside of court on the would-be date of the beginning of the trial, despite Gerard’s continued insistence that he never assaulted anyone.
  • A mutual confidentiality agreement was signed that prevents the prosecuting witness from disclosing any details of the incident.
  • In a public statement dated Dec 20th, 2017, Gerard said, “…I admit that there are things that I have said and done in past years that I’m not proud of today. For those things, I wish to share my most sincere apology to anyone hurt by my actions. Mistakes were made several years ago, lessons were learned and since that time I have been singularly focused on becoming a better person.”
  • There are currently four Gerard survivor accounts posted at https://ashevillesurvivorscoalition.wordpress.com/, alleging sexual harassment and assault, dating as far back as 2008 and as recently as two years ago.
  • UNCA has opened a Title IX investigation into allegations of sexual assault from a student engaged in an internship with Gerard.
  • Multiple businesses and organizations in Asheville (Mountain BizWorks, YWCA, Hotel Indigo, DoubleTree Hotel, Riverlink, Mission Health CarePartners, Asheville Chamber of Commerce, an [unnamed] local school) have removed Gerard’s artwork from their walls as details of his alleged conduct have emerged.
  • An internal communication within Jonas Gerard Fine Art written in 2015 was leaked to Asheville Survivors Coalition which states, “Over the about eight years the gallery has been operating in Asheville, it has employed at least 70 people. Based on this, the gallery has had an overall turnover rate of about 87%…. Generally, a turnover rate of less than 15% in a year is acceptable. Eighty-seven percent, and rising, is downright extreme. To have salespeople and other well-paid staff members leave the gallery, in my opinion, signals that the workplace is so toxic, so unhealthy, that they feel like the bad, or negatives, outweigh the good, or positives, despite the high compensation.” This letter, as well as survivor accounts and other supporting documents can be found here, here and here .

The RAD is risking its viability and the branding of the River Arts District by not taking decisive and principled action on this matter. We have a responsibility to see that no one else is hurt. Protecting the livelihood of someone who is known to harm others is a blight on the neighborhood and has countless seen and unseen consequences. When one excuses those known to be abusing others, one tells survivors that their lives don’t matter. We will continue taking action to ensure that our neighborhood and our arts community is not only a safe place for women and others, but a place where we thrive, in which our entire community holds itself to the highest standards. Art and commerce flourish in a truly open, safe and collaborative environment.

We ask you to immediately revoke Jonas Gerard’s membership in the River Arts District Artists association and to make a public statement about this. We will not relent until this action is taken.

Neighborhood artists and all those who wish to stand with us, in support of a healthy, robust and safe arts district are welcomed to email us to add your name as a signatory at empoweravl@gmail.com.

Signed,

The Asheville Survivors Coalition

And the undersigned:
Ron Ogle
Andy Rae
Kitty Love
Diane English
Lynn Bregman Blass
Rona Kritzer
Molly Walter
Brandon Skupski
Donnie Destro
Pearl Coogler
Amy Sreb
Ian Leightner
Jenna Ashcraft
Alex Greenwood
Stephen Lange
Josephine Bloomfield
Chelsea Hall
Joel Herring
Kahlil Hollingsworth
Han Winogrond
Ethan Murray
Robert Lebovich
Michael Parry
Joyce Thornburg
Elise Okrend
Carrie Cox
Frances Dominguez
Max Saunders
Kimathi Moore
Jeri Sos
Marston Blow
Terri Friday
Jeremy Oland
Joseph Pearson
Autumn Drier
Erin J. Hardy
Sonia A. Norris
Judy Calabrese
Ryan Fergerson
Beth Mark
Gabrielle White
Sherrod Barnes-Ginifer
Amy Hamilton
John Brinker
Martha Skinner
Jacqueline Maloney
Angel Lopez
Robert Montilla
Claire Barrett
Bayla Ostrach
Melissa Stafford
Julie Spalla
Robert Gardner
Grace Engel
Natali Jackson
Micah MacKenzie
Vanessa Agosto
Alli Good
Aaron Birk
Fallin Black
Rob Williams
Ellen J. Perry
Paige Paris
Diana Starr
Jackie Hammond
Alaina Drawdy
Tybee Maitri
Myah Hubbell
Jodi Rhoden
Tristan Vitriol
James Ward
Lily Chase
Jillian Summers
Chanda Calentine
McKel Cox
Vanessa Sogan
Angel Chandler
Carrie Ann Chandler
Robin Sierra
Jen Bowen
Jillian Wolf
Jay Joslin
John Little
Kimberly Hughes
Kathryn Abernathy
Katrina Chenevert
Deanna Chilian
Ada Lea Birnie
Andrea Kulish
Cheyenne Trunnell
Genie Maples
Barbara Fisher
Marissa Arbitblit
Suzanne Snyder
Merideth Huff
Leah Shapiro
Dave Breske
Liat Batshira
Ted Figura
Jen Murphy

Simone McDivitt
Ursula Murphy

 

To add your name as a signatory, email empoweravl@gmail.com. Thank you! 

JG sexually assaults women

Seen at the Asheville Women’s March

 

ASC interviews “Anna”, a local 13 year old who took a stand against Jonas Gerard

This week, Asheville Survivors Coalition sat down with a local 13-year-old girl who recently became aware of the allegations against River Arts District artist Jonas Gerard (background information on that here and here) and organized to get her school to take down his paintings. She found out about the issue at the women’s march, where members of the Asheville Survivors Coalition were flyering. Because of security reasons, we won’t release her name, or the name of the school—we’ll call her Anna.

ASC: So you saw a flier about Jonas Gerard at the women’s march?

Anna: Yes, I saw signs and then I got a flier. I went home and I was like, Jonas Gerard is a terrible person and my mom was shocked. I was just really shaken up about the whole thing and promised myself I didn’t want a person like that to be not consequented [sic] by his actions. I’ve been trying to take steps on what I can do, but it’s dangerous and it’s scary and I’ve been trying to figure out what to do.

ASC: Same with us too, you know, trying to do things to keep the community safer. It’s hard to know sometimes what exactly to do because there are a lot of risks involved, and a lot of unhappy people, and backlash, basically, when people speak out about things that have been kept silent for so long. So what happened when you went to your school?

Anna: I told a few of my friends just to have a backup in case anything happened. I went to my principal who’s super great, I love her. So I texted her first. I sent her a picture of the flier. She responded, “Absolutely, this is highly concerning. We will take this very seriously and take a stand. I think we also need to talk about sexual harassment surfacing in the community and the country so everyone is aware and stronger together.” So we watched a sexual harassment advisory lesson, and those are little groups in the school. It’s a really scary topic.

ASC: Well, we’ve been working on getting—because when someone like that is the face of the community, in places like the Asheville Airport and the Chamber of Commerce, and other places like hotels that represent Asheville to people from other places—we think it’s important that it’s a first step that the art get taken down. That’s been our first action, is to try to get the art taken down like you did. Because there were a couple of paintings in your school, right?

Anna: Yeah, that’s the first step beside talking to my friends and telling [the principal], was taking down the paintings he painted with us. So we basically said, “We’re taking these down because this is not gonna happen in our school.” I think it’s bad, partially because his paintings are huge in the community and because he has such an audience and he makes a lot of money from his art, which means he also probably has awesome lawyers and he has this huge fan base saying that he’s “a sweet old man” and on his website it’s awful because he puts on such a persona, he’s like, “You can touch anything, you can touch all my paintings, welcome to this calm and cozy space”, and I just wanna yell, “No!”

ASC: Yeah he definitely has it down, that kind of persona that people want to see. I agree with what you’re saying and I think that’s all totally accurate. But you know, it has to continue being dealt with. Do you feel satisfied in any way, do you feel like “I’m glad I took action”.

Anna: Yeah, absolutely. I feel that at first, it was just this roar of support and then it just continued to die down, and that was really disappointing, it was this period of figuring out logistics and figuring out what the boundaries were. It’s not a safe situation so it was impossible to try to figure out how I could help.

ASC: What does it mean this whole year for you, this #MeToo movement, has it made an impact on you?

Anna: Yes definitely. I’ve never been harassed or anything, but I know people who have and I don’t want anyone to ever go through that, so preventing that is huge, and I think the #MeToo movement definitely sparked a lot of this, and how people feel comfortable to come out like that, that’s a huge thing, and that will definitely power this movement.

ASC: I agree, I think that the fact that it happened right now is so important. The conditions weren’t really favorable for people to come forward like they are now, so because of these past few months, there’s more weight given to people’s stories. The interesting thing to me, though, is that #MeToo has been such a huge thing nationally, but nothing’s really happened locally. I’m not aware of anyone who’s been publicly outed and then removed from their position. So we see these things happening in other places but it hasn’t really settled here yet. And we know, Asheville Survivors Coalition knows that there are many instances where this could apply, it’s not there is a lack of people harming others, unfortunately, it’s not different than anywhere else. So we’re going to continue working on it. It would be cool if we posted some of this interview, with your permission, I think that that would be good for people to see.

Anna: Yeah, because I’m not ok with all this whatsoever!

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What can you do?

Sign the petition to get Jonas Gerard’s art removed from the Asheville Airport.

Contact Asheville Airport and tell them to support local women and survivors. Include a statement that you will not fly from the airport as long as Gerard’s art is up.
CEO Lew Bleiweis at (828) 684-2226 and email: eheywood@flyavl.com
Marketing director Tina Kinsey at 828-684-2226 x13238 and email: tkinsey@flyavl.com

Please share this with your networks!

Anna
“Anna” with a photo of the flier she saw at the Asheville women’s march

Complicity or solidarity?

It’s impossible to escape the hype that Asheville is a friendly, safe, welcoming mountain town where everyone is free to prosper, do fulfilling work that benefits the community, raise their children in safety, drink tasty brews and kayak on the weekends. But what happens when we’re tempted to believe this public relations facade?

Is our town capable of seeing its own dark side? 

Even with the strong winds of #metoo blowing into every corner throughout this country and beyond, there have been no local examples of serious abuses brought to light by the media in the past few months. Is Asheville some sort of safe zone, with a forcefield against the kind of abuse that made the #metoo movement necessary? Do we live in a vortex of positivity? Are we more enlightened than the rest of the country?

The Asheville Survivors Coalition can tell you unequivocally that, no, Asheville is not a safer place for women and gender various people, or for working and precarious and poor and homeless people. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

In Asheville, what do you do when you have been harmed, sexually, by someone who is in a position of power? Do you go to the police, like everyone tells you to? It is very likely they will tell you your case is not serious enough. If they do agree to press charges, the Asheville DA very rarely takes sex crimes cases to trial. You will probably have a difficult time finding a lawyer to represent you because of these factors. If you find a lawyer to represent you in a civil case (also uphill), know that your potential employability in a related line of work (otherwise known as your career) may shrink. If you go to existing nonprofits, they can help you with therapy and other services, but sometimes you can feel like a case file and not a person, or that they are too maxed out to provide the solid and close support you require, much less help stop the person who abused you from doing it again. If you decide to file an EEOC complaint, you may soon find out that that agency is overwhelmed and notoriously incapable of enforcement. If you have enough energy and courage to try to access these options, and then hit a wall, what, then, do you do? How do you find justice, or create it, and how do you make sure the same person doesn’t keep on harming others?

In Asheville, it appears to be that there are not many answers to those questions. If you are lucky, you have a social support network that will believe you and stand up for you. You may access some services that help you to cope. If you are not lucky, you will be disbelieved and blamed for speaking out about the harm that came to you. Rumors may circulate about you. You may quit your job or be fired. Your relationships may suffer. You may self isolate or worse. You have a high chance of relocating, finding another area to live in which to heal from traumatic things you’ve experienced here.

Another question: what happens in this community when a powerful person’s abuses become such common knowledge that this awareness can be classified as an open secret? Does the town stand up for justice, speak out loudly against violence and exploitation? Do institutions associated with the individual speak out openly against abuse and disassociate themselves? 

No. Not much seems to happen in Asheville when such stories are common knowledge. Perhaps it’s easier to support #metoo conceptually, until it gets closer to home.

Which leads to more questions. What happens when a culture of enforced positivity becomes a culture of enforced silence? Of acceptance of abuse? Of fear of speaking truth to power? What happens is what we are seeing now.

This town has not only supported, but lifted up Jonas Gerard, visual artist and alleged repeat sexual offender, for a decade without any sanction or close scrutiny. With prominent placement of his art up (until recently**) at the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, the Asheville Regional Airport, Mountain BizWorks, Mission Hospital CarePartners, NC Stage Company and several hotels including DoubleTree Biltmore and the Hotel Indigo, Gerard has enjoyed unparalleled support by anchor institutions of Asheville. A permanent downtown billboard on Patton Avenue promoting the River Arts District features rotating artworks of his. He is a member in good standing of the River Arts District Business Association, in a neighborhood where his abuses are common knowledge. He is the winner of the #1 award for painter in Mountain Xpress Best of WNC 2017 contest, voted on by the Asheville community. He was awarded the Asheville Artist of the Year by the Asheville Area Arts Council in 2008, and this honor has never been revoked. He speaks in local schools, collaborates with numerous charities and has a longstanding internship program with UNCA. Many would say he is considered the most highly recognized and emblematic local artist. There is almost no one that will speak about Gerard negatively in the River Arts District. It is generally acknowledged that he brings in busloads of tourists, and any offenses he may have committed are secondary to that bottom line. Any discussion otherwise is “bad for business”.

But there will always be those who speak out. A fellow RAD artist who wishes to remain anonymous says, “Jonas Gerard’s behavior is a poor reflection on artists and the Asheville arts scene. I have spoken with at least a dozen other professional artists who agree that his poor behavior has been fairly common knowledge for years, has been covered up by his ability to pay his way out of it over and over, and needs to be met, after so long a time, firmly, with some form or forms of community response. Enough is enough.”

Many of the institutions mentioned above are now removing Jonas Gerard’s art. We are glad that this is happening. But it is not enough. We know, and can confirm with proof, that some did not remove the art after hearing about his abuses the first, second or third time, but because now with more light being shown on this matter, they are simply afraid of their business or organizational reputation suffering. It’s as if the harm being done to women is not even worth looking into seriously. As if the harm is not just an afterthought, but the dead last thought when compared with profit, notoriety and professional affiliations.

The Asheville Airport has been told for two years, through multiple pathways, that Jonas Gerard harms women. The art department at UNCA was directly informed, through multiple pathways, two years ago that he was not safe, that the internship program with his studio should not continue. They did nothing. In fact, they did not do nothing, they continued to heavily promote him and their internship program continued. UNCA has a commercial, currently on the air, where Gerard is the only artist featured. It is unfortunate that all this must be pointed out, but it is more unfortunate that an intern was assaulted, subsequent to warnings, by Gerard in 2017. 
It is also unfortunate that survivors must fly in to Asheville Airport and on arriving home, be greeted by a large, centrally placed tableau of the artist’s work.

Eight people decided to walk through the River Arts District last December 16 with fliers that said “Asheville, Stop Supporting Predators!” because there has been no entity that we are aware of that has been willing to stand up to this person, no matter how many people he affects negatively. One survivor said, “He has been draining this community of its power, and he has been taking away safety from women in this community for years.”

Last week a thirteen year old girl found out from her mother, who had attended the women’s march, about the allegations against Gerard. She realized: this man’s paintings are up in my school. Upset, the next day she asked for a meeting with the head of her middle school and shared this information with them. They had an all school assembly and decided, as a community, to take down the paintings then and there. 

This young person took more initiative to combat harm against women by this man than most people in this town put together, for a decade. She refused to be silent when she knew people had been harmed. She realized she had the ability to effect change, quickly.

Asheville Survivors Coalition is proud to stand with her. We don’t want to live in a town that keeps open secrets any more. We are done with the culture of exploitation and silence. We will not let it stand. We will not remain silent. We are many, we have deep roots in Asheville, we are creative, we are powerful, and we will not leave. 

We will work to remove people from positions of power if they subject their workers, associates, or any community members to sexual assault, harassment or coercion, or if they create an environment that is unsafe or exploitative. We believe survivors and categorically reject the culture that makes it hazardous to speak out about violence. Unsafe environments—whether they be work, home, school or other institutions—harm our community, have countless unseen negative repercussions, and we will not tolerate them. We encourage any individual, of any gender, to let us know if they are experiencing these things, and will center their needs in any process we participate in. Our work is not limited to one person, or to sharing information about abuse and violence. It can and must go further, to hold all institutions accountable, and change the culture of silent acceptance of harm. We want to raise our children in a place where people have each others’ backs, where we can all be free of harm, and flourish as a community. We can build a safer Asheville, and we will. We are here for you. Please stand with us.

If you need support, or have information, you can contact empoweravl@gmail.com

More information about the allegations against Gerard can be found here and here.

**Jonas Gerard’s art has been taken down or is promised to come down at these locations: Mountain BizWorks, Hotel Indigo, [unnamed local school], Mission Hospital CarePartners, YWCA (taken down over a year ago at the request of members and staff), Chamber of Commerce (works on loan to be removed, donated works will stay in the space), Riverlink, Asheville Eye Associates. Asheville Airport is in talks to remove the art as of late Jan 2018. This list may not be comprehensive.

If you are aware of a place that Gerard’s art hangs and you would like help asking for its removal, please contact us at empoweravl@gmail.com.

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Sign the petition to remove JG art at Asheville Regional Airport

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A community member has created a petition to ask for Jonas Gerard’s art to be taken down from the Asheville Regional Airport.

Please read and sign the petition here!

(Text is below for reference)

———-

“The artwork of painter Jonas Gerard has hung prominently in the Asheville Regional Airport for several years now. Meanwhile, ongoing allegations of Gerard’s sexual assaults on multiple victims throughout the years have also been continuously coming to light. How many victims is the magic number before the Asheville Regional Airport will remove Gerard as the face of Asheville? Not only is confronting the artwork a trigger for his victims and other sexual assault survivors, we simply do not want a sexual predator to be an ambassador for the Asheville area artists. Furthermore, that space could be used to represent many other deserving and qualified artists local to the area. So we ask, remove the artwork of Jonas Gerard from this community space.

For information on the assaults:
https://ashevillesurvivorscoalition.wordpress.com/

For information on Asheville Regional Airport’s refusal to acknowledge the community requests:
https://ashevillesurvivorscoalition.wordpress.com/2017/12/27/asheville-regional-airport-ignores-community-requests-to-remove-art-of-jonas-gerard/

To sign the petition, follow this link

 

 

Another survivor speaks out about Jonas Gerard: “When you’ve hurt one among us, you’ve hurt us all”

You can find other statements from survivors here.

What can you do? We invite community members to sign onto these statements as supporters in solidarity with those willing to share their personal experiences. To add your name or organization, email empoweravl@gmail.com.

Community supporters:
McKel Cox, Micah MacKenzie, Gabrielle White, Ron Ogle, Barbara Fisher, Matt Shepard, Jillian Wolf, Liat Silverman, Barucha Peller, John Brinker, Aaron Birk, Rob Williams, Mic Collins, Melissa Clark, Amy DeCamp, Caroline Fletcher, Paige Paris, Kai Thompson, Ellen J. Perry, Erin Janae Hardy, Searra Jade, Saro Lynch-Thomason, Florencia Barolin, Steven Kahlil Hollingsworth, Tawnya Sowerwine, Fallin Black, Jeffrey Crespo, Shannon Watkins, M HoneyBee Mckee, Myah Hubbell, Elizabeth Schell, Kitty Love, Claudia Nix, Bridget Haseltine, Jodi Rhoden, Sara Legatski, Kris Watson, Evan Garner, Andy Rae, Rick Melby, Lauren DeWorde Patton, ZaPow Gallery, Carlie Love, Mo C, Lori Theriault, Hilary Chiz, Justin Holt, Diana Starr, Calvin Allen, Deb Scott, Han Winogrond, Lisa Shoemaker

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Asheville Survivors Coalition in front of Jonas Gerard’s Clingman St. studio

Photo credit: Asheville Survivors Coalition

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[Content warning: this information may be upsetting or disturbing to read.]

Statement #4

I was probably, let’s see, I graduated [college redacted] in 2006 and then I went abroad for a year and I came back. I have a fine art degree, and he [Jonas Gerard] had an ad on Craigslist for a studio assistant, so that must have been 2007, 2008 when this happened. I was on Craigslist looking for jobs, and I wanted a studio position, or something to do with an art gallery. And that was right up his alley. He wanted someone that knew about paintings and stretching canvases and doing studio work, and I was a fresh graduate and, to me it was just the perfect job, and so, I responded to his Craigslist ad.

It was an email communication at first from the Craigslist ad and then it was a phone call, and he told me to come down at a specific time earlier in the day for an interview. I had just moved back home, so I was living with my mother in Arden at the time and I told her, I have this interview, I’m going, and I remember exactly what I wore, because everyone always asks me “What were you wearing?” It’s such a common response kind of thing. I was wearing a white blouse, and a brown skirt that was kind of flowy, hit below the knee, and sensible shoes. An interview outfit because you’re dressing to impress.

We get there, he shakes my hand, we say hello, he talks to me, he’s like, “Well after we talk for a few minutes, I want you to stay at the studio for the rest of the day and work, to see if you’re a good fit.” Which, I was elated, because to me this means he’s taking me seriously, this could be great, he’s gonna pay me 10 dollars an hour. I was working at [name redacted] for 7.15 [an hour]. I was really excited, he was going to pay me in cash, but I told him, I said I need to call my mom, because I told her I was going to be gone for a hour for an interview, she didn’t know I’d be gone for six hours. So he’s like, that’s fine, so I called her, and came back to the studio after telling her where I was.

And the first thing he wanted me to do was climb up on this ladder, and I was wearing the skirt and I remember being like, I don’t know…I don’t think this is what…I don’t understand how me going up on a ladder is showing you how I would be a good studio assistant? Cause you know, you’re young and you’re just like, lah dee dah, why would anyone ever do anything bad to anyone? I went to a progressive, liberal arts school, and it just wasn’t on my radar, but there was this little voice in my head that was like, you shouldn’t do that, you’re wearing a skirt, this is inappropriate, and so I declined, I said, “You know, I can’t, I’m sorry, I’m not dressed for this, I thought this was just an interview, I didn’t know I’d be working in the studio today, or I would have worn pants and a gross shirt.”

And he seemed a little put off by that, which, at the time was just like, oh no, I’m disappointing him, he’s not going to hire me. And so we made a few tasks to do and he goes back and forth to do whatever he needs to, and I remember distinctly at the time that— I don’t know if he’s still married to her—but I got the distinct impression that his wife was working in the office in the middle of studio. She was like in the next room, and she was the office admin and she was doing something. Which, that, as an aside, makes me as a woman, I was like “Oh his wife’s here, it’s a safe place, it’s a family studio.”
I toodled around the studio doing this and that, and he asked me about stretcher bars, and at one point he came up behind me and he pushed my hair aside, and he started gently massaging my shoulders, and he said, “You know, women are an artist’s greatest inspiration, and I really hope you can find some time to inspire me”. And I was kind of like, of like, “Oh, ok.” I didn’t know what to say to that. I was probably 22 or 23 at the time, just, not versed in the ways of the world and I was like “I think he’s coming on to me, I don’t know? Am I flirting with him? Why is he acting this way?”

And I start hanging paintings for him. And you know that painting you see everywhere of Picasso [a realistic portrait of Picasso by Gerard]? I was hanging that painting and I had both my arms up, and it’s a very heavy painting. And he came up behind me and he put his hand between my legs, and he fondled me for what seemed like several minutes—it was probably several moments. And he was talking to someone else in the room like it was no big deal, like he came up to women all the time and reached down there. Cause you know, there were other people in the room, and he did it in a way that he was standing behind me, so it didn’t look like there was anything going on. And I was holding his painting and I was just like, I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going on. How can someone, you know, be this lackadaisical and talking happily to someone else while you are fondling me in public? And I can say without a doubt that I did nothing to encourage this behavior from him. I was definitely eager to be an employee, because I was an art major, and I thought this was a great job.
When he did that, it’s weird, it’s kind of a moment where you’re like, this is wrong and I can’t say why because nothing like that had ever happened to me. And, you know, I really just withdrew after that. I remember thinking, I can’t wait until we’re done here. At the end of the day—because the rest of the time it was him trying to interact with me or get me to respond in a certain way, and I never did, I definitely was just like, “Um.” And by the end of the day, I think I worked there six hours, because I remember he gave me sixty bucks and he said, “This isn’t going to work out between us.” And I just remember leaving, feeling like a whore, you know. And I was crying when I left. And I called my boyfriend at the time, who was also a piece of shit [laughs] and I told him what happened and he was like, “Well you probably were flirting with him, and what were you wearing?” And having that response from my partner made me think to never talk about it again, because it was probably my fault.

And it wasn’t until years later that I kind of digested it, you know when you just have distance from a situation, and you’re just like, “You know, that was really wrong!” No one deserves to be touched against their will, especially, you know, when you’re an older man and a much younger woman, I feel like that’s almost just the perfect environment for someone to be taken advantage of. Because, I didn’t really know any better and for a long time it felt like, I should have known better, like, “I was 23, I should have known better”. But you know what, I was 23, I lived a charmed life I guess, no one had ever tried to take advantage of me, and so I didn’t…I definitely came away thinking, “Did that really happen? Was that inappropriate? I don’t know.”

And, you know, as soon as I had talked to a girlfriend about it, they were like, “Absolutely that’s inappropriate, no one should ever do that to you.” And so then it just became years of being angry and like, seeing his success and seeing his artwork eliciting an emotional response from me. Like this is a disgusting person and people think he’s great. So when I go on the internet and now there’s some momentum with this, like “hey, this guy is not good. I would never let my young daughter or my girlfriend work in that studio, or go in there alone.” And when I see people defending him, like, “All my interactions have been great. All my interactions are great with him. I feel like what you see is what you get.” And I’m like, well, you’re a young man and I’m a young woman, and what you see is not what you get when you’re a young woman and you’re next to him.

The more I would talk to people about it, because once I got over the fear of people not believing me or thinking it was my fault, I told everyone, I said, “This guy touched me, and it was wrong, and no one deserves that.” And I have no problem telling people face to face but I don’t want to put it up on the internet. I don’t want that to define me, you know? And so a lot of times too, with this stuff, like I am so thankful that there are people out there that want to give their time to this, because for me, I want to give my time to this, but also giving time to it is a small victory for him, because I’m like, I’m giving him more of my power, and I don’t want to do that.

So I feel like, I have to walk a careful balance between letting people know the situation and also protecting myself. Because, when I go on the internet and I read some of this stuff, and people are like, “Well I don’t know, what are the facts?’ And I’m like, “I have facts! I have facts!” And for me especially, years later I worked at a place where they were selling the calendars in the boutique, and I told the owner, I was like, “He touched me. You can’t sell his artwork here.” I told the owner, “He hurt me.” And on one hand I can kind of understand where she defended him and was like, “He does all this charitable work though.” And that was kind of like Waking Life when they were like, “we’re going to donate our proceeds to Our Voice.” But you know what? How many calendars would you have to sell to make it ok that he touched me? How many paintings do you need to sell to make it ok that he abuses women? How many paintings would you have to sell to make you feel like your daughter, sister, any woman could work there? You know, can you really put a price on someone’s pain and experience?

That’s the most—the people that are his fans, I feel like they have a quantitative, they have a price point on the pain that he has exacted on women in this community. The money and the influence that he wields are what’s protecting him, you know? But the more people are aware of what he is—it won’t matter. At least that’s what I’m hoping. And I know it’s disappointing for people when they find someone they admire has done awful things. Ultimately, when you disappoint people, you’ve hurt them too. When you hurt one among us, you’ve hurt us all. When you take one person’s power away, you’ve taken all of our power. And I feel like, he has been draining this community of its power, and he has been taking away safety from women in this community for years.

I’m excited and relieved to see that it’s finally—the tides are turning, because the longer we let him operate here, the more lives are going to be affected. Because I see people also on the internet defending him, being like, “Well this is, you’re ruining someone’s life”.

How many lives has he ruined? I decided that day I would never work in a studio again.

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An email communication between the speaker above and JGFA from 2007

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Jonas Gerard’s portrait of Picasso hangs in his Clingman studio gallery

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