Why I Resigned From the Calumet Artist Residency
In late 2018 I announced my resignation from the Calumet Artist Residency, a group I helped incorporate as a 501(c)3 and initially served as secretary, until I was asked to serve as president. The reason, in short, is that I was done with taking complaints from creeped-out women and angry veteran activists about the behaviour of Corey Hagelberg and I didn’t see how doing so would help my career. The longer reasons you will learn as you read on.
I was asked to lead the Calumet Artist Residency in spring 2018. At this time the relationship between co-founders Corey Hagelberg and Kate Land (then serving as president) had become so dysfunctional that they were unable to communicate or work together productively.
This became immediately apparent during the first board meeting I presided over when she yelled “you’re a fucking asshole” three times in his face. Soon after she moved across the country, failing to complete things she’d agreed to complete before leaving: producing a fundraising video and designing a major piece of public art for the Gary Poetry Project. Until we produced the latter we could not receive major funding for our 2018 Gary Nature Project.
Mr. Hagelberg and Ms. Land also ended a contract-payment deal on a building in the neighborhood that was to have become CAR’s headquarters, a residency space for visiting artists, and a workshop/community meeting room. This was to be the major part of our Nature Project grant and had been announced in local newspapers and radio. So there I was, leading an artists residency unable to host artists in residence, with a dysfunctional board and publicly announced projects that would be unrealized, the momentum from the Gary Poetry Project being squandered, and almost no available funds to support the mission of the organization.
So why did I choose at this time to not only stay on but also to accept the leadership of this organization? Simply put, because I believed that, despite these problems, it was still a vehicle to do innovative cultural work in Gary. An organization accomplishes more and has more impact than individual action ever will. Too many good things were within reach to just let it wither. I had put a lot of time and work into planning, grant writing, copy writing, and keeping the group in the public eye when the others had lost interest. I felt the struggles could be worth it. And there was struggle.
One Sunday in spring 2018 Mr. Hagelberg refused to unlock the shipping container we were using as our HQ at the local farmer’s market, claiming it was his “private property” and that I “couldn’t tell him what to do.” I had to firmly remind him we had a scheduled event, promoted in local media, and that refusing to unlock the structure was a deliberate violation our bylaws and the spirit of the group.
Through a series of meetings with our major funders I was able to reestablish confidence in the organization. This despite Mr. Hagelberg’s persistent opinion that “well, they like us so they won’t care if things are delayed.” (They did care.) I successfully pressured him to complete the public art for the Poetry Project and the funds were released to support the Gary Nature Project – six months into the project. Excellent work across the city was supported: Weekly nature lessons for the Gary Parks Department’s Youth Services Bureau summer program, public hikes with the Green Urbanism Department, a beach trip for the kids in Naomi Millender’s summer youth program, and two reports for Redevelopment Department’s comprehensive plan.
The good times didn’t last long unfortunately. A whole set of new problems emerged that summer.
Back in October 2017 Mr. Hagelberg showed up to one of our weekly meetings held at my house, looking starry-eyed he proclaimed that he was “in love with Ashley.” He was referring to Ashley Williams, freshly graduated from college and hired by the Sierra Club to organize the Indiana Beyond Coal campaign. He had spent much of the past week “laying awake in bed all night thinking about her.”
Ashley, whom I’d worked with a few years earlier on the Break Free Midwest campaign, met with me later that month. Mostly we discussed organizing but at the end of our conversation she mentioned him and then made a funny face. She didn’t have to tell me anything, I already knew the problem.
Word had gone around about the contents of a long, rambling email he sent shortly after they met, proclaiming his love to her. She offered to let me read it and I declined. A few people who took up Ashley’s offer already had explained to me what they found most concerning. They asked, “Is this guy gonna harm her if she rejects him?” “Would he harm himself?”
I told Ashley that she was here to organize, that nothing should get in the way of that, and that if he was bothering her I would be willing to say something to him, if she wished. She never asked and instead dealt him a lot of mixed messages. And as he proved useful and sympathetic when she experienced problems in the early stages of the campaign the two of them seemed to grow closer. This opened a new set of problems for the Calumet Artist Residency and for me personally. Mr. Hagelberg became insistent that CAR formally support (or “sign-on” in activist-talk) the Indiana Beyond Coal campaign.
From the start I opposed our direct involvement and voiced many concerns: It was never made clear how our participation would benefit us or support our mission, especially as the campaign was focused on Michigan City, not Gary. I knew that antagonisms would emerge between the top-down model of the middle/upper-class Sierra Club and the local, grassroots environmental justice organizers, and I wanted CAR clear of that.
I spoke from personal experience about working with arts and activist groups in Chicago, how arts/cultural groups fair better (and preserve their autonomy) by offering indirect, rather than direct, support to activist or political campaigns. I also believed that Mr. Hagelberg’s intentions had more to do with his obsessions about Ashley than any social justice. This selfish impulse, rather than a legitimate social or political one, ensured he would fail to make clear, rational judgments when those antagonisms arose. And they did arise. At Indiana Beyond Coal’s very first public meeting.
After this Mr. Hagelberg became increasingly fixated on and resentful towards one of Ashley’s critics: Vince Emanuele, an experienced anti-war activist, Iraq war veteran, and co-founder of the Politics, Arts, Roots, and Culture (PARC) community space in Michigan City. (Which was letting Beyond Coal use their space for free.)
Mr. Hagelberg repeatedly found ways to interject Vince’s name into our CAR planning meetings that summer, often at puzzling or inappropriate moments. I repeatedly asked that he not discuss the Beyond Coal campaign’s problems with me as it was a distraction from CAR’s mission. Nevertheless he persisted, rattling off names of activists who “said they won’t work with Vince,” or claiming an intervention was being planned to address “Vince’s toxic masculinity problem,” etc.
He also was becoming frustrated with Ashley at times. She ghosted him as he was preparing a costly, locally sourced meal one night when Kate was visiting town with her new partner. Word of his embarrassing reactions that night made its way to me through numerous neighborhood gossip lines.
At one of our weekly meetings he was jittery and tense, pacing around my house frustrated that he’d stayed late over at Ashley’s but she didn’t want to have sex with him. My wife happened to be present that day and asked that I never again have him in the house while she was there.
After another meeting, as I was showing him to the door, he turned around and blurted out that, “Ashley lets me rub her shoulders and massage her back,” adding that “she also lets me touch her ass sometimes.” He was trying to create a cover for himself. I don’t think he knew that Ashley’s roommate Sarah Zawacki had already told me about catching him fondling Ashley, who was passed out on the couch, a few nights earlier.
Sarah Z told me she saw Mr. Hagelberg quickly remove his hands from Ashley’s ass upon being noticed and scurry out of their place. After I resigned from CAR, Sarah informed me of another incident with him. That one afternoon she woke up from a nap to find him in her bedroom, staring at her. Before she could say anything he walked out of her room without saying a word. Sarah moved out soon after. I also learned later that Ashley had spoken to Vince at some point about Mr. Hagelberg’s inappropriate touching.
I tried to talk to other board members in confidence about the incident with Ashley. For this I was accused of trying to start trouble, was told I had some kind of weird Alpha-Beta thing going, and was told that Sarah was probably lying. All of the board members I tried speaking to about this were women.
I would also later learn that he had been bothering a member of the city of Gary’s planning department, Sarah Koblites. This especially pissed me off. He had once asked me about her “availability” and I told him directly to leave her alone, that she was a busy professional, that our relationships with her must be strictly professional, and that she was far out of his league anyway. That didn’t dissuade him from sending her a series of long, rambling emails that she described as “creeper.”
The inevitable explosion in the Beyond Coal campaign happened in September 2018, immediately after NIPSCO announced that it would close its coal-fired power plant in Michigan City in 2028. Local activists felt betrayed that the Sierra Club/Beyond Coal (literal outsiders) were claiming victory and speaking for a community that would still be exposed to pollution for another decade. Newspaper articles made Beyond Coal representatives come across like managed opposition, enraging the local activists who’d volunteered months of their time and resources.
Some sort of heated exchange must have occurred between Mr. Hagelberg and Vince. I received a text message from the former stating that the latter had “threatened” him. Unfortunately I made a joke about the matter.
In mid October I got a call from a local organizer, Thomas Frank. He wanted to bring to my attention his concern over things Mr. Hagelberg had said to him the night before about Vince; that he had referred to him as “a killer,” someone who because “he had killed before would kill again,” and that because “he has PTSD people should not work with him.”
Regrettably I took no action then. I would later learn Mr. Hagelberg had the same conversation with a Michigan City office-seeker, a congregation in Gary, and even a CAR board member, who conveniently couldn’t recall the details of the conversation when I asked.
Less than a month later I received a volley of angry messages from Vince after he learned of the things being said about him. The messages promised protests at upcoming CAR events and mentioned a possible defamation lawsuit against Mr. Hagelberg. This put CAR is a tough spot: We were days from a mural dedication at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore that would be attended by the park superintendent and the mayor of Gary, among others.
Our legal counsel (full disclosure: my wife) explained to the other board members that in her opinion Mr. Hagelberg’s behavior (if true) could constitute a violation of CAR’s bylaws, that Vince had every right to protest our events, that his legal and civil rights likely were violated, and that he had legitimate grounds for a lawsuit, which while unlikely to ever reach a judge, would negatively impact the Calumet Artist Residency. She advised that the safest option was to remove Mr. Hagelberg from the board to lessen any liability or collateral damage to our reputation. The board informed him of the developments and asked that he not attend upcoming CAR events. We also asked Thomas Frank, Vince Emanuele, and another witness to submit written statements.
Mr. Hagelberg first reacted by claiming that I was “being duped” by Vince, Thomas, and others who were “out to get [him].” He then accused me of being part of this supposed conspiracy. Then he tried to play on our “friendship,” saying it was all a “big misunderstanding” and that I was risking all the “great things we accomplished.” I asked him point-blank if he had made those statements about Vince. He refused to answer. Some friend.
Never once did he indicate any awareness of his role in this mess. At least Vince apologized to me and expressed remorse over my resignation. Mr. Hagelberg threatened to send “very good lawyers who will work for free” after me and said that he “had a few theories” as to why I was behaving the way I was, and that I had been given “terrible advice.” I have no clue what he was on about with all of that. The guy who creeped a bunch of women out, who was causing liability and being evasive, was now telling me not to trust the advice of my wife!
I also learned that Mr. Hagelberg had, without notifying the board, allowed the Sierra Club to use the Calumet Artists Residency as a fiscal sponsor for the Beyond Coal campaign. For those unfamiliar with the workings of non-profits, this unilateral move essentially compromised the financial autonomy of our small community arts group in favor of a global NGO with a billion dollar budget. He didn’t even request they pay us a fee for the service, which is common in fiscal sponsorships.
The board of directors failed to have my back. They expressed that they “hadn’t signed up for this” and were thinking about leaving. They couldn’t “wrap their heads around” the fiscal sponsorship or liability problems. One member thought that the written statements “didn’t seem like a big deal.” They accused me of simultaneously “invoking the bylaws too much” and “making the matter personal.”
I knew then that to continue leading or even to continue being associated with the Calumet Artist Residency meant that I would have to give priority to putting out Mr. Hagelberg’s personal fires over developing innovative programs and building a support network. I would be choosing to allow liabilities not of my creating but of another’s to compromise my work and reputation. I saw that I would continually be forced to defend my reputation from questions about my values, ethics, and professionalism.
I had to deal with some problem of his making or due to his neglect every 2-3 weeks in the period between August 2017 until I resigned in November 2018. And even for a bit afterwards, as I detailed above. What I have detailed here are the most aggravating experiences in a year+ of aggravation. Now, I’m much happier now questioning the values of those who chose to work with someone like Corey Hagelberg and the Calumet Artist Residency.
— Sam Love, August 2019