Negotiations between the Southwestern College Art Gallery and Sony Corporation for a sponsorship of $100,000 in exchange for three years of naming rights have come to a standstill nearly a year and half after the offer was first made.
Gallery Director Vallo Riberto said he had courted Sony in the hopes of establishing a long-term collaboration. Along with the donation, Riberto said Sony would have provided scholarships, internships, workshops and benefits for the college.
Dr. Donna Arnold, the former dean of the School of Arts and Communication, said at the time that she supported the deal, but wanted faculty support. It did not come.
In fall 2014, after a handful of faculty expressed concerns about commercialization of the gallery, Riberto said the deal stalled.
“Initially (Sony) was going to give us a very generous gift for naming rights, which the administration was fine with,” Riberto said. “I introduced the idea to the faculty. We had a meeting here at the gallery and the faculty voted against it. The offer was so generous it was a shame to pass it up because we could’ve probably lived off the interest for a long time.”
For nearly 20 years the acclaimed gallery has operated on a budget of $1,000 or less. In December the college Faculty Hiring Prioritization Committee rejected a request to hire a full-time gallery director.
Professor of Photography Micajah Truitt said he attended the faculty meetings where the Sony proposal was discussed.
“The general consensus was that everybody was cool with the idea of having a plaque inside the gallery that somehow showed that Sony had given a grant,” he said. “One of the issues that was discussed was that typically when you talk about naming rights for a building, it’s a lot larger amount of money than $100,000, so that was part of the discussion.”
Riberto said Sony rejected the terms put forth by faculty members.
Professor of Art Perry Vasquez said he expressed concerns about the commercial aspect of a Sony sponsorship and what its role would be with the gallery.
“I don’t know what the history of sponsorships is on Southwestern’s campus, so it’s new territory for us, but we were trying to discuss the pros and cons of their relationship,” he said. “We want the relationship, but we want it on terms that will be good for everyone. We would not be willing to accept their support if they were somehow expecting to have some kind of editorial control over the content.”
In September 2014 the gallery hosted the opening of “Pencils & Pixels,” a symposium that featured a panel of experts, including Sony executives, who discussed art, film and video games. It was initially conceived to announce Sony’s donation and unveil the new name of the gallery, said Riberto.
“That was the idea,” he said, “to really make a splash with Sony here on campus, in the gallery and in Chula Vista.”
Arnold seemed to think that Sony and the college had a deal. In a letter from Arnold to Charles Connoy, Vice President of Global Platform for Sony Computer Entertainment America dated Aug. 22, 2014, she acknowledged the donation, but did not mention anything about naming rights.
“Thank you for your generous donation of $100,000 to sponsor ongoing activities and support for the Southwestern College Art Gallery,” Arnold wrote. “Southwestern College is proud to be a partner with Sony Corporation to implement innovate creative approaches to our education. This liberal gift allows the visual program to operate the gallery, which will enhance support to pay for exhibition cost, expand the ability to mount diverse shows. In consultation with the dean of the school of visual arts faculty, other cost may be identified to support the students in our community in an exacting education series.”
“As a result of your generous contribution, Southwestern College will publicize the donation through press releases on the website and at all exhibitions and educational series sponsored by this donation. Sony Online Entertainment, name and logo, would be prominently displayed on signage printed and electronic materials through 2014 and 2017.”
Connoy was contacted by The Sun, but has not replied to interview requests.
Linda Gilstrap, dean of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and director of the SWC Foundation at the time the deal with Sony was in the works, said that Arnold wanted to draft a letter to Sony, even though it was Gilstrap’s job.
“She felt that she should be the point of contact with Sony,” Gilstrap said.
Riberto said he felt constrained by Arnold and that she had mismanaged the deal.
Arnold was contacted for this story but refused to comment.
“The idea stayed on the table for quite a long time,” Riberto said. “When (Arnold) left and I spoke with Vice President of Academic Affairs Kathy Tyner, she immediately thought that for that kind of money, why didn’t I go directly to her? We picked up the phone and we talked to Sony.”
Tyner sweetened the deal and offered Sony 10 years of naming rights, said Riberto. Tyner said she remembered the conversation differently.
“My conversation with Sony did not, as I recall, involve any money or naming rights whatsoever,” she said. “There was a great deal of interest and respect for the college, and the door for potentially making a donation in the future was left wide open.”
Professor of Ceramics John Lewis said that it is unfortunate Southwestern does not allocate sufficient funds to operate the gallery.
“The college does not support the gallery,” he said. “They have taken away reassign time from faculty to run the gallery. The budget for the art gallery is insufficient for basic operation. As a result, the gallery director has had to go (off) campus to find funding for something that should be funded by our campus.”
Riberto said he remains hopeful that a deal can be struck with Sony.
“The only reason there has still been discussion about the deal is because of my relationship with Charles (Connoy),” he said. “Charles was kind enough to say ‘Well, it’s on the table.’ That’s to say that when their new personnel comes in they are going to still consider the offer. And that is what he told Kathy Tyner when we had our phone conversation with Charles.”
Zaneta Salde Encarnacion, the new executive director of the Southwester College Foundation, said she is standing by to help Riberto.
“Having a staff person who is solely responsible for development, contributions, naming rights, any private donation to the college, when you have one staff person who’s dedicated to that, they can have one point of contact and it just minimizes the possibility of a lost communication and missing deadlines when people are juggling a million other things.”