BROOKSVILLE — Internal strife isn't unfamiliar to the Hernando County Fine Arts Council. Rarely in the 27-year history of the nonprofit organization have things run silky smooth. Members of the council's volunteer board of directors have come and gone for various reasons, always replaced by others who have their own vision for how they want the organization to move forward.
The past couple of months certainly have seen that trend continue with the departure of four members of the council, including three members of the executive board, leaving vacant the critical positions of vice chairperson, secretary and treasurer.
But some present and former members say that the escalation of friction at meetings had gotten out of hand. Paul Shaskan, who joined the council in August 2012, called the atmosphere "deeply distressing," and after receiving a series of heated emails among some members over a dispute involving the organization's broken computer, he fired off his own message.
"Let's be adults," Shaskan wrote. "It's time for us to all pull together, not pull apart."
Shaskan, who was chairman of the council's Art in the Park show in March, recalled that the group's March meeting descended into a personal tiff between former council chairman-turned-secretary Roger Sherman and chairwoman Lili Southerland. Sherman resigned from the council March 31.
Southerland, who became the organization's chairwoman in December, said she doesn't know what prompted the exodus of Sherman or other council members, but added that any organization in a transition phase is bound to be have dissension regarding some of the decisions that are made.
"I don't think we're too much different from other groups," she said. "We have a lot of talented people, but not everyone is going to agree on the same things."
On Thursday, the group made some headway with the appointment of two new people to its executive board: Emilio "Sonny" Vergara, who will assume the vice chairman's position, and Jeanette Lewis, who was named treasurer.
Vergara, a digital photography artist, has held positions on numerous boards, including the Brooksville Vision Foundation and the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs. He believes that the success of such ventures as this weekend's Florida Blueberry Festival and last month's Art in the Park are proof that the community is becoming more and more art conscious.
"There are a lot of opportunities out there to partner with other groups such as the Brooksville Vision Foundation and the Spring Hill Art League," Vergara said. "I'm hopeful that we will take advantage of that."
Chartered by the Hernando County Commission in 1987, the fine arts council was created as an umbrella organization for local groups and organizations fostering cultural enrichment, including the Hernando Symphony Orchestra, the Hernando Jazz Society, the Hernando Harmonizers, the Hernando Youth Orchestra and others. For the most part, the organization has lived up to those intentions by sponsoring art festivals and handing out money to aspiring artists, musicians and small groups that promoted public music, dance and the visual arts.
But tough economic times and dwindling public support took a toll in recent years. In 2011, the organization was nearly bankrupt, and the 15-member council, whose members are appointed by the County Commission, had shrunk to just four. To save money, the organization let go its $14,000-a-year part-time executive director.
The council began to bounce back in 2012 with the arrival of Sherman as chairman; he previously had served on several arts committees in the Tampa Bay area. During his two-year tenure, the group managed to right its financial footing and established its first permanent home and art gallery in the headquarters of Nicholson Engineering Associates on Horse Lake Road in Brooksville.
Sherman said he left because he no longer felt his input was wanted.
Southerland disagrees, saying that the strength of the council comes from the diversity of ideas offered by people within the organization. She hopes that Sherman will choose to remain involved with the group in some capacity.
"I hope it's temporary," she said of his departure. "It's a community organization, and everyone from the community is welcome to be a part of it."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.