[Asheville community members confront Jonas Gerard in front of his Clingman studio on December 16. Photo credit: Asheville Survivors Coalition]
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ASHEVILLE, NC, December 27, 2017
Asheville Survivors Coalition is an ad hoc coalition of community members supporting survivors of sexual assault and harassment. We are releasing multiple statements from individuals, as well as documents which factually support these statements. This release of information, seen all together, details both a longtime pattern of sexual assault and coercion in Jonas Gerard’s two workplaces in Asheville’s River Arts District, as well as the business’ legal strategy to silence victims through payment. This release will take place over the course of the week. We welcome anyone with further information to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
After a December 16 protest in front of Gerard’s Clingman Street studio brought these allegations to more public awareness, JGFA posted a response to his business Facebook page stating he has never sexually assaulted anyone. However, the statements Asheville Survivors Coalition has obtained directly contradict this. Additionally, the coalition is releasing documents given to them. One is an internal communication from JGFA, a letter in which a longtime employee details the gallery’s lengthy history as an unsafe workplace for women as well as Gerard’s central role in creating this working environment. The other document is a copy of a waiver and release agreement JGFA presented to a former employee in 2016, attempting to further mandate her silence, which she did not sign nor agree to comply with. The statements and documents will be found permanently in their entirety at ashevillesurvivorscoalition.wordpress.com
With prominent placement of his art up at the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, the Asheville Regional Airport, Mountain BizWorks, Mission Hospital CarePartners, NC Stage Company and various hotels including DoubleTree Biltmore, Jonas Gerard has enjoyed strong support by anchor institutions of Asheville. A permanent downtown billboard on Patton Avenue promoting the River Arts District often features his art. As the winner of the #1 award for painter in Mountain Xpress Best of WNC 2017 contest, many would say he is considered the most highly recognized local artist and one of the premier representatives of Asheville art. However, word of his sexual improprieties has long plagued his business. For two years individuals have protested Gerard’s live painting events at various times. In November 2015, a group of individuals attended a painting performance at the Jonas Gerard studio 144 at Riverview Station, and asked the artist during a question and answer period how many women he had sexually assaulted, after which they were quickly escorted off the premises.
A fellow River Arts District artist who does not wish to disclose their name says, “Jonas Gerard’s behavior, beyond being a blight on both male behavior and general human 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 many 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. Too many have suffered the effects of his affliction. Enough is enough.”
Eva Hesse, member of Asheville Survivors Coalition, says “We will work to remove people from positions of power if they subject their workers or associates to any type of 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 sexual harm. Unsafe workplaces harm our community, have countless unseen negative repercussions, and we will not tolerate them. We encourage any individual to let us know if they are experiencing these things, and will center their needs in any process we participate in.”
Readers will note that the Asheville Survivors Coalition is not releasing the names of our sources because we do not believe people should have to disclose their identities to get this information out to the public after they have already been victimized. We believe that these statements, each credible in its own right, together describe an intolerable situation that must come to an end as soon as possible. To that end, we invite community members to sign onto these statements as supporters of those willing to share their personal experiences.
To add your name or organization, email email@example.com.
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
I worked for Jonas Gerard for almost 4 years starting in 2012. I started working during The River Arts Stroll serving wine. After a while they asked me to be an after hours assistant. I was a part time after hours assistant. Sometimes it would be a couple times a week, sometimes a couple of times a month. Being an artist myself, this was a dream job! Little did I know he was already grooming me. I now realize how great he was at brainwashing me. Whenever I was assisting him painting, when he would finish one, he was so happy! He would hug me, later on give me kisses. Pretty soon it was much more more touchy feely. He would say it was the magic of his art. I was a part of it. I was special. I believed every word. I was his secret power. The more special he made me feel, the more he got away with.
I really wanted a sales job. But every time I tried to get it, I didn’t. I applied two more times after he had started getting physical with me. Looking back on it now I think he was worried I would let our secret out. The secret was that he was sexually molesting me. I think this is why he didn’t hire me full-time.
In March of 2014 I was also working at [redacted] and [redacted] so I couldn’t work for him anymore. I was just too busy. I lost contact with him for probably 6 months or so and I ran into him at Walmart. He told me there was trouble, that women were charging him with sexual harassment. He said he lost a lot of employees. He hugged me and told me how much he missed me. He said they were only after his money and he would never do that to anyone. He made me feel very very sorry for him.
I went home thinking that this was my chance to get the sales job I had always wanted. He had lost everyone, so I was hired right after I applied.
I was so in love with his art that it was a perfect fit. Being his assistant I understood his art so selling it was easy! Pretty soon since we were short of employees I worked all the time. Sales during the day and still assisting him at night frequently. I was making a lot of money for him and training his new sales team. I was on top of the world thinking that him sexually touching me all the time was natural. It was part of his creativity, his passion. He even would be sneaky and touch me during the day. He would squeeze my boobs and my butt, or my crotch. Kiss me when we were alone for the sake of the Art. We started eating lunch together and even had dinner… Sometimes in his apartment he would cook for me. We were both diabetic and I was trying to help him take better care of himself. He also took me out to dinner and even bought me groceries from time to time. I thought he was amazing.
He did a nude painting series. There are I think three of me. He took several pictures of poses of me. I remember one night in particular I was dancing nude. He put on music and I posed all over his gallery. At this point I would do anything for him.
One day he finally took it too far. He was asking me to do something to him and I said no. I must have said no at least 10 times. He was pushing my head down over and over again. He made me give him a blow job, not once but twice and acted like we were making love or something even after I said No. After this horrible ordeal was over he said something that finally, finally took my blinders off. He said to not tell his girlfriend and not tell my husband. All of a sudden I was sick.. What have I done? What have I been doing all this time?
My manager was on vacation at the time. I continued to come into work that week. Luckily I was scheduled at the other gallery so I would not run into him. He asked me several times to be his assistant and I kept making excuses not to help him. He came over and said… But you always say yes to me, what’s going on. I made up some kind of excuse. The following day was his live show. I was working the show. When he was painting he said something to the crowd that he had said to me that horrible night. I can’t remember what he said now because I have completely blocked this out of my memory so I could move on. I had to leave. I talked to one of the other girls and asked her to switch with me so I could run away. That was the last day I worked there. This was 2015.
Later when he was confronted with everything he actually said, in front of his girlfriend and everyone, that he thought we were in love. He was shocked I didn’t feel the same. He even asked if I could stay.
We came to a $50,000 settlement. This was a verbal agreement. I never signed anything. This was almost four years of brain washing and sexual harassment. He wired the money into my account. I agreed to not go to WLOS or the police. In January 2016, the following year, he had the nerve to serve me with a W-9 form [Editor note: JGFA declared the settlement amount as taxable income to the IRS, requiring the recipient to pay a portion of it in taxes]. I called and asked his new manager if this was for prostitution? How dare he. Since I had made so much money working for him it put me into a higher tax bracket. I owed $15,000 in taxes.
This is when his lawyer sent me a paper he wanted me to sign. When I saw the agreement I took it to a lawyer. She said it would be better if I did not sign it. That the way it was written I would still owe the taxes. It was yet another trick. She also said that the IRS really wouldn’t care what happened and even if I fought it I would probably lose. To this day I’m still paying a huge payment every month.
I honestly could not fight him in the court. Nobody has ever won. He just throws money at any problem and then makes the women pay the taxes on it.
He needs to be stopped. He said in the WLOS press release that he took sexual harassment classes, therapy. He was molesting me when he was taking those classes. If you look at the dates, this all took place after the court case.
She [the speaker’s girlfriend] had started working there [Jonas Gerard Fine Art] and things went really well for a while. I never knew anything bad about Jonas at the time but I also never knew the extent of it. She had been working there for 6 months or 8 months as a a studio assistant, and she did a couple of after hours modeling gigs for him. That’s when the whole scenario really started to change. There was some physical violation, there was a lot of mental abuse and straight up sexual harassment. At that point I encouraged her to go get a lawyer and go get some advice. Things went on from there, a couple of rounds of legal counseling, acquiring information, which was taped documentation [information incriminating to Jonas Gerard]. And then the case came out and the litigation started. At that point Jonas had her followed, which, I was in association with her all the time and I was also followed. At that point, pretty much it consumed both our lives. It came to be all about that. I was pretty demoralized at that point. The case came through, she settled, and then our relationship pretty much fell apart from there.
First in the beginning it was a huge boost to the neighborhood because he was bringing in busloads of tourists and high end sales. This man does 10 to 15 times the business that his closest competitor in the arts district does. That’s why writing a 50,000 check was not [a big deal to him]–sometimes he did that in a day. But then, the abuse continued, and the girls have told me about horrible incidents that happened at the Clingman, and the stories that then arose about what happened in Miami and why he left to come up here to begin with. There’s the legal documentation but then there’s the story on the street which is that basically, the mob ran him out of town. Whoever he touched was not only well connected above the table but well connected below the table too.
I just want to see Jonas out of my arts district. Some of the things that I’ve heard that he’s done that I’m not going to repeat because it’s hearsay–it’s monstrous. He knows what he’s doing is morally wrong and it’s punishable. He has people who he pays hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars that tell him not to do that anymore.
Do I think that he’ll ever stop? No.
Document #1 [Editor note: this document is reprinted exactly as it came to us, and is an internal communication within Jonas Gerard Fine Art studio circa 2015]
We have worked together for [Number of years removed] years. [Names removed] and I have worked with the gallery the longest since its move from Florida to Asheville about eight years ago. And, I’ve noted that those of us who’ve worked with the gallery the longest have largely worked outside the gallery walls over much of this time, worked part-time and/or worked outside regular business hours. This is telling.
You mentioned yesterday that you believe the gallery is a healthy workplace, which is evidenced by its monetary success. I wholeheartedly disagree.
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%, and this will be even higher when [Name removed] leaves. Generally, a turnover rate of less than 15% in a year is acceptable. Eighty-seven percent, and rising, is downright extreme. A real cause for concern, especially considering the gallery pays its employees, probably, more than any other gallery in the area. Its salespeople can easily gross [Wages removed] in a year. So 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 is a huge red flag.
As you know, I spent much of my time working with the gallery between [Year removed] and [Year removed] outside the gallery walls. I often worked remotely and fielded questions via phone and e-mail. I was not working inside the gallery, witnessing and experiencing some of the things I’d heard from others over the years.
I recall you stating that one of the problems you had with former operations managers, [Name removed] and [Name removed], was their “corporate” and “rigid” ways. They didn’t appreciate your hugs, touching and generally invasion of their personal space, so you stated that they were flawed. You stated that they had issues they needed to work on–not you.
[Name removed] was highly competent, dedicated, timely and good-natured. She was such an asset to the gallery based not only on this, but also on her relationships in Asheville with so many people. To you, however, she was flawed, because she didn’t openly invite and/or accept your advances. She didn’t want you touching her. She was a professional in the truest sense of the word, but your appalling behavior, requiring “closeness and sweetness,” as you’ve maintained for years, is simply this- predatory and preying. I believe you start working on women in the workplace, slowly, testing the waters, to see how far you can advance.
As your first defense, I feel you deny. You deny your behaviors and the potential emotional, mental, physical and/or economic harm(s) you’ve caused. For example, I witnessed [Name removed] directly address you this week regarding you forcefully grabbing her, pulling her onto your lap and then grabbing her breast. You denied this and stated that you brushed her breast. Yet, per the e-mail I was cc’d on today, I see that you hope for her to “shift back to feeling good before” she leaves? If [Name removed] has the most important position at JGFA, why would you jeopardize this? Why would you make a sexual advance? I know why, as you stated so earlier this week, because, “You were attracted to” [Name removed], you said. As if this is at all any justification for your behavior(s)!
You, Jonas, make on ongoing effort to ensure that everyone knows your name is on the door, you are the CEO of the gallery. By virtue of this, you are in a position of power, which – in my opinion – you have abused and continue to abuse. It is your responsibility as owner and CEO to create and maintain a safe, healthy workplace for employees. Yet, when you were faced with these issues, when you were faced with doing so last year, you wanted to exclude addressing these things in the employee handbook.
For instance, in July 2014, when [Name removed] was working on the gallery’s handbook, she e-mailed a rough draft of a “Sexual Harassment Policy” to you for review (scroll down to the end of this e-mail to read the draft that she e-mailed you). The draft clearly stated that the gallery prohibits discrimination and/or harassment—that the gallery would not tolerate discrimination and/or harassment and neither should its employees. And, what response did you have to this policy? Here’s what you had to say back in an e-mail that you bcc’d me on regarding the “Sexual Harassment Policy.”
Jonas: “The following is going too far. And I will only allow it if it’s absolutely required by law for this to be in the handbook. Maybe somewhere else but in the handbook? Its based on very low consciousness as if we had low class, gross attitude employees and managers. It’s based on assuming its going to happen. What if? Too many what if’s kills the sweetness, the sacred, and the loving atmosphere. As you read on it’s in itself producing gross and inappropriate behavior and images of the lowest kind, in this document? I’m not allowing it if I can help it.”
These are your very words. The Sexual Harassment Policy, you state, is “going too far.” … “It kills the sweetness, the sacred and the loving atmosphere.” No, Jonas, I believe you have killed and continue to kill the sweetness, the sacred and the loving atmosphere. It didn’t produce “gross and inappropriate behavior and images of the lowest kind,” you did, Jonas. You’re not allowing it if you can help it? Clearly, you didn’t get the message.
In the end, a “Sexual – And Other Unlawful Harassment Policy” was included in the handbook last year. It specifically states that employees who feel like they’ve been subjected to discrimination and/or sexual harassment should report these things to the operations manager, or to you if it involves the operations manager. It goes on to say that, if reported, the person who receives the report will conduct an investigation. It states that “harassment is not condoned or tolerated in any way and may lead to dismissal or to other appropriate action…” What happens when you, Jonas, the owner, grabs your operation manager’s breast (as you admitted by trying to justify it by stating that you were attracted to [Name removed])? Who does she report it to? What type of investigation is conducted? What happens when female employees report ongoing occurrences to your operations manager? What is the operations manager supposed to do? The handbook makes it very clear that the party doing the “harassing” may be subjected to dismissal or appropriate action. If you are the party doing the harassing, your employment cannot be terminated, as you’re the owner. So, what appropriate action is being taken, what are you doing, to ensure this is remedied? These are real issues, real concerns.
Yesterday, you started by stating that the least I could do for you is hire and train my replacement. No, Jonas. I owe you nothing. [Name removed] owes you nothing. Your employees owe you nothing.
You then went on to state yesterday something like you have never harmed or treated me in the way(s) you have with others in association with sexual harassment. Yes, you have. This year, you most definitely, repeatedly, revisited me posing nude for you (as you did with [Name removed], which – I understand – is largely why she quit). It started with you saying that I needed to “model” for the sake of knowing myself—to sell art. In fact, I have an e-mail from you dated 5/25/15 whereby you state that modeling will help me “get closer to your true self which in this sacred commerce concept translates to abundance. Being totally secure and comfortable with yourself makes people feel comfortable with you which makes people “get” what this art is really about.” In a meeting with you and [Name removed], in your apartment, I specifically addressed the fact that I would not model. You stated that you wouldn’t bring it up again, though you did—repeatedly. We were in the studio one day, and you brought it up yet again, stating that you touch your models and husbands/boyfriends are not allowed to be at sessions. You also stated that you went from photographing your models to painting them live, in association with painting Naked Truth pieces. On a separate occasion, you showed [Name removed] and I nude photos of [Name removed] on your phone. On another occasion, when I was in the gallery on a Friday, you grabbed me from behind, around the waist. Jonas, these behaviors are unacceptable. They are not “sweet” and “sacred.” These are invasive, uninvited behaviors.
Again, you are in a position of power. If you have personal needs, why not seek associations/relationships with women outside of the gallery? Why continuously seemingly prey upon women that work for and with you? These women come to work to make money to support themselves and their families. Do you think a part-time employee like [Name removed] can easily go elsewhere in this town and make the kind of money she’s making? No! I think you know this. I know you know this, as you’ve shared so. You are in the position of power here. In my opinion, you are in the position to draw the line, put up boundaries, create and maintain a safe workplace, refrain from taking, carrying around and sharing nude photos of employees, refrain from touching women and so much more.
And, at this point, after hearing her speak this week, I think [Name removed] simply enables your bad behaviors. Perhaps she receives monetary incentives from you. Perhaps, subconsciously, she supports you always, because of these monetary incentives. I was once one of these people, a supporter—I didn’t experience enough, first-hand, to know the truth, until recently. I’m utterly appalled. I’m disappointed. I stood by and supported you while dozens of employees came and went. I realize that I did based on working outside the gallery walls for so many years, and the fact that you are an older man, you are someone that women believe is trustworthy, like a family member. You remarked yesterday that a couple women customers approached you for kisses and that it happens all the time. Yes, it does, because these women don’t know the Jonas that others do. They see the side of Jonas you present to them. And, when a seventy-four year old man apologies and/or cries and/or shows emotion, people take it seriously. They feel for you. It works wonders for you.
You told me recently that people don’t buy your art, they buy you. Yes, Jonas. They buy the version of you that you sell them.
And regarding the monetary success of the gallery, which you stated reinforces your behaviors and what goes on—yes, the gallery has experienced a measure of success. It should easily gross [Revenue removed] again this year. However, I do not believe this monetary success is ongoing validation that what you’re doing, everything you’re doing, is moral and/or right. I believe the gallery is nowhere near where it could be success-wise and revenue-wise. Its success has been ongoingly degraded when people come and go, when the above continues, when people walk out of the gallery and say who-knows-what to locals, when local business owners don’t want to display your art because they don’t like you based on what they’ve heard (as you shared regarding one of the owners of [Name removed]) and so on. This has a ripple effect.
The fact is that the gallery has had some highly competent, very dedicated, genuinely supportive people come through it—crème de la crème. While I believe you recognize this, I’ve experienced you tell [Name removed] that she’s the best manager you’ve ever had, yet in the same breath you told her there are a dozen [Name removed] out there who can replace her. I believe, as long as you maintain this position and attitude, the gallery will continue to be your cattle call, herding people in and spitting them out like yesterday’s garbage.
Speaking of yesterday, on Friday, regarding hiring a [Position removed], you stated that your bad behaviors in the workplace will never happen again. You stated that you’re getting help. I so wish I could believe you. I wish I lived in a cocoon, like you charged [Name removed] with doing earlier this week. It’s experiences like these with people like you that catapult folks out of their cocoons. Out of safety and comfort zones. You’ve done this. And, I believe forgiveness is separate from justice and reconciliation and forgetting. I’m not forgetting, Jonas.
I’m not forgetting–not only on behalf of myself, but also for current and future employees. I will not hire and train a part-time employee who may be subjected to a hostile work environment based on your sexual advances.
[Photo credit: Asheville Survivors Coalition]