HarborArts Founder Responds to Controversy

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

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

Boston Police confirmed there is currently an active investigation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Marie Cornuelle

    A correction to this article needs to be made: I, Marie Cornuelle, was the former volunteer director of programming for HarborArts, Inc., and not a “board member.” Laura Elsen, was the former volunteer managing director for HarborArts, Inc., and also not a “board member.” Steve Israel is now claiming that Matthew Pollock was “unpaid” for his work at HarborArts but this is not a true statement. It is true, according to Matthew Pollock, that he was not filing any personal tax returns. The bank statements we reviewed in order to prepare and put the finances in order, showed Matthew Pollock’s parents, Andy and Lynn Pollock, of Hudson, Mass., writing donations to HarborArts, Inc., and Pollock immediately writing himself checks and also withdrawing cash from a Central Square ATM. There were many things in the bank statements that pointed to mismanagement of funds, especially if the founder is claiming he was “unpaid,” now. There were no invoices and receipts or proper oversight over the bank accounts. Laura Elsen, the former managing director, was trying to pay artists that participated in a summer 2013 exhibit, entitled “Occupying the Present,” when she encountered many problems in distributing the funds due to interference from the executive director. The payments for this exhibit were nearly seven months overdue. Also, Laura Elsen, witnessed Matthew Pollock measuring bags of marijuana on a scale in the HarborArts’ office and became alarmed at the prospect of creating youth programs with an executive director selling drugs from the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina. We took action to protect ourselves after being verbally threatened by Pollock and also to protect our at risk community from more harm. We notified the board members and submitted all the evidence to Mic Billingsley, former board member. Billingsley later resigned and instead of submitting the gathered evidence to the Attorney General, he returned the gathered evidence to the HarborArts’ office. No board decision was ever reached after we notified the board of our concerns and we were forced to resign.

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