It was a sad day for me when Jim was forced from his position at Pacific Asia Museum. He became the COO shortly after I joined the museum and as such he was a very sane, responsible and well liked by most of the staff. Unfortunately he was there at a politically turbulent time when there was both a director and a president on staff vying for power. The museum’s budget couldn’t support so many upper positions, so to balance the budget, Jim suggested to the board that the three of them take a pay cut. Not only did they not choose to follow his wise advice, but they fired him while he was out of town. It was one of the coldest moves I have seen in my professional life.
Shortly afterwards, Jim found a leadership position in another local non-profit music organization, but ended up moving across the country to work at another museum, a better fit for him as a lover of the visual arts. Politics ended that position too, and for the next few years, he has moved from one job to another in the hope of finding a position where his skills, interests and personality could be fully appreciated. If I didn’t know him, I might wonder why he has bounced around so much, but I do know him. He is a warm, funny, smart, creative and very likeable man and a good, loyal friend. And he is not the only friend I have in the non-profit world whose career has consisted of a string of short-term jobs at a number of different organizations. I have a number of highly capable friends with multiple graduate degrees and immense creativity who have perhaps not played the political game cleverly enough to hold onto their positions and have found themselves at the end of the day working in a freelance capacity. Although I chose to leave my position at the museum, it was ultimately the politics that drove me out. I was shocked and disappointed at how fierce politics can get in the world of fine art, and, like Jim, I guess I wasn’t really into playing the political game.
So now Jim lives in New York and we hardly see each other any more. I miss him because he was such a supportive friend, who truly believed in me professionally and personally. He was also my best gay friend, a smart, good-looking guy who reassured me that I was smart and attractive when I felt down about myself and who supported me whole-heartedly when I first got together with David (now my husband). I miss being able to talk to him regularly about art, relationships and the difficulties of dealing with politics and personalities in the art world. But today, we made the time to talk on the phone and, though the phone line was crackly, the conversation was easy as we caught up about our various endeavors and ideas for books we’d like to write. He is now appraising art and loves this new profession. I am already trying to figure out how I can possibly get him to move back to LA. In the meantime, I sent him a little gift in the mail that might help in his work as an independent appraiser– a small Japanese business card holder made using a 400-year old technique called inden, in which a lacquer pattern is applied delicately to the surface of soft leather. Since the lacquer takes many hours to dry, this art form combines strength, artistry and patience – all qualities Jim and I both need to embrace as we go onward and upward in our journey through the world of art.