Peter Franklin

Peter Franklin, retiring executive director of Highfield Hall & Gardens

In the weeks following a controversial decision regarding an artist’s solo show, Peter Franklin, executive director of Highfield Hall & Gardens, announced Wednesday, October 3, that he will retire, effective immediately.

Nancy H. Porter, chairman of the board of trustees of Highfield, will serve as the interim executive director.

Mr. Franklin could not be reached for comment.

The Highfield board, in announcing Mr. Franklin’s retirement, stated that he oversaw significant growth of the organization as it transformed from a small cultural center to a regional destination with international art exhibitions, including the College Women’s Association of Japan print show and performances by Curtis On Tour. Mr. Franklin had served as executive director since September 2014.

“Under Peter’s leadership, renovation of the mansion was completed, the ground and gardens expanded, and he helped set a new direction of providing exhibitions, performances and cultural experiences within the setting of a beautiful historic estate,” Ms. Porter said in the statement. “We appreciate all Peter has done to create Highfield Hall & Gardens as a cultural destination in Falmouth.”

Ms. Porter wrote in an e-mail Tuesday, October 2, that the board received Mr. Franklin’s decision to retire with regret.

In an open letter for Falmouth residents Tuesday, however, Mr. Franklin wrote that over the past few weeks there has been much public discussion surrounding the withdrawal of Falmouth fiber artist Salley Mavor’s “Liberty and Justice” solo exhibition from Highfield’s fall schedule.

“As the executive director, many of the accusations and derogatory comments directed at me were false, so I have decided to share my response to these events openly,” he stated. “I fully believe that every citizen—and especially artists—have the right to freedom of expression. In fact, freedom of expression is in my nature and the fabric of my family.”

Mr. Franklin, who was an art design and history major at Williams College, said his father was an architect and his mother an accomplished artist.

“Additionally, I experienced censorship myself when I marched on Washington to protest the Vietnam War, and was pepper-gassed by the Washington, DC, police. I would never knowingly censor an artist. Accusations that I believe otherwise are simply not true,” he stated.

Institutions, unlike the citizens of the United States, have restrictions on their freedom of expression, he stated.

“As the executive director at the time of the incident, I faced important questions with no answers. I needed to clarify: 1. IRS regulations on allowable nonprofit political activity; 2. The Town’s policy on political subject matter in the town-owned building that we lease; and 3. The feelings and opinions of the community we serve concerning displaying political subject matter at Highfield Hall & Gardens,” he wrote.

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office said Thursday, October 4, that they have received one complaint from a Falmouth resident about Highfield.

The office would not provide additional information about the complaint this week.

Ms. Porter said October 4 she was not aware of a complaint to the attorney general’s office about Highfield.

“I will say simply that it was pointed out to us that a nonprofit with a 501(c) status does have a restriction in endorsing candidates,” she said.

Regarding Mr. Franklin’s point about town-leased properties, Ms. Porter said that Mr. Franklin and the board did not know what the town counsel’s stance was in regard to political activity.

Falmouth Town Counsel Frank K. Duffy said on Thursday, October 4, that Highfield is under no obligation to submit a policy about political activity for the town’s approval.

“The town could put in a lease condition about political activity but there is none at Highfield,” he said.

No other town-leased property has a policy applicable to political activity, he said.

That said, there are certain state laws that apply to all properties, including the law that one may not use town-owned property to raise money for political activity.

Mr. Franklin wrote that it would take time “to make the right decision for our community and the institution I love,” so he supported canceling or delaying the exhibition.

“I could not knowingly risk the very existence of our nonprofit legal entity and the cancellation of our lease agreement with the Town, with no clear mandate from the community,” he wrote.

In his open letter, he also addressed the topic of donors.

“There have been many accusations that my actions were based upon a concern around donor contributions. First, donors are people who support the arts, whether they give $1 or $1,000,” he wrote. “Of course, I listen to them. If not supporters of the arts, who should we listen to? The question—I believe—is not about listening to donors, but about the influence money had on my decision. The answer is absolutely none.”

Mr. Franklin wrote that he was worried “about something much more fundamental, risking the very existence of the institution—its nonprofit status, its lease agreement and the goodwill of the community we serve.”

“Without these we will cease to exist,” he wrote.

Because of the “hostile environment created by this incident,” Mr. Franklin wrote that he has decided it is time to retire and spend more time with his family and his new granddaughter.

In her new role as interim executive director, Ms. Porter said she plans to assess what needs to be done and to continue to promote “the tremendous work that we offer the town.”

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(3) comments

Fedelen

I appreciate Mr. Franklin’s thoughtful response. It is an unfortunate loss to Highfield that he will no longer be with them. I wish he would have stayed as measured and reasonable voices are needed to engage in meaningful dialogue in this divided country.

kmackenz77

I love Sally Mavor's work but I think that her and her followers expectation that Highfield Hall was like a commercial gallery and could support political views was wrong. Hopefully Sally will find the correct venue for her wonderful work and I'm sorry that this misunderstanding by the artists and her followers destroyed this man's career.

Gadfly

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

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