Louise Stevens of ArtsMarket, Inc.
Louise Stevens of ArtsMarket, Inc.

Third in a multi-part investigation

Louise Stevens had made the 2,000 trek from Montana to Fort Lauderdale. Broward County hired the nationally-known arts consultant from ArtsMarket, Inc. to conduct an independent review of the Young At Art (YAA) children’s museum. Stevens came to South Florida to hold a retreat with YAA officials, board members and staff.  After many museums took a financial hit during the 2008 recession, the County wanted to bolster YAA’s business model and fundraising.

As REDBROWARD reported, part of Louise Stevens’ tried and true independent review process included “retreats” with officials and staff of the facility under review.

REDBROWARD obtained a February 18, 2015 email from Louise Stevens to YAA officials outlining her process. She promised to draft at least five versions of her report and hold “retreats” with the YAA board to get their thoughts on the various drafts before a final version is submitted to the County. This email contained Stevens’ first draft. “Here TaDa! is draft 1. As it explains on the cover page, I envision that after I get your immediate/top of mind thoughts I will revise it to be draft 2.” Stevens wrote. “Draft 2 is what I hope we will share with your board early next week so they have plenty of time to read, react, and think it through before the retreat. It is what we will work with at the retreat.” Stevens said draft 3 will be the product of their work at the retreat.

Groups previously reviewed by ArtsMarket, Inc. confirmed retreats were part of Stevens’ process. In paperwork collected by Broward County employees,the Hockaday Museum of Art gave rave reviews of Stevens’ performance. The performance verification form states, “Louise…was a 99.9 on a scale of 1-100. ‘The company went above and beyond; having a retreat to ensure all staff was knowledgeable about the marketing plan.’ ArtsMarket, Inc. was very professional and has many National contacts.

However, Stevens would never go “above and beyond” with Young At Art.

EARLY MORNING MEETING DERAILS INDEPENDENT PROCESS

The retreat for Louise Stevens and Young At Art board members was scheduled for Tuesday, March 3, 2015. In a February 2, 2015 email, Stevens said, “This is terrific. I will fly in on Monday, so Monday, Tues, Wed night at hotel.” On Sunday March 1, Stevens emailed detailed plans to YAA staff. She promised to send a “long” executive summary to YAA on Monday March 2 so the YAA board can review before the retreat.

Stevens wrote she “will finish draft 2 of the plan tomorrow–luckily I have long flights!” Stevens would be coming to Fort Lauderdale from her home in Bozeman, Montana.

On Tuesday March 3, a noon time email informed YAA board members and staff that the planned retreat was cancelled.

YAA officials were still set to meet with Stevens on Wednesday March 4.

At 7:05 am Wednesday morning, Stevens emails YAA asking to delay the start of their 8am meeting. She wrote, “Jeff [Tottenhoff] called me last night and I have to meet him at 8 at the library. Pls. let the team know…just the usual county nervousness there. Can we start at 10:30?”

Stevens faced with more than “nervousness” that morning.

Multiple sources confirm that Jeff Tottenhoff, a Broward Libraries business administrator, delivered a threat to Louise Stevens: issue a negative report about Young At Art or your reputation would be ruined.

Sources confirm Stevens told the YAA board about the threat. When reached by REDBROWARD, Stevens had no comment.

However another source confirmed the early morning meeting took place at the Salad Bowl, an eatery located near the main library in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

When contacted by REDBROWARD, Tottenhoff admitted he met Stevens at the Salad Bowl for breakfast. He said he “just wanted to meet” Stevens. Tottenhoff said any claims that he threatened Stevens’ career and reputation were “patently false.”

As REDBROWARD previously reported, this was not the first time Stevens felt pressure from Broward County.

Stevens told YAA about the pressure before she had even signed a contract with Broward County. Stevens called her experience with Broward County unlike anything in many years dealing with local governments. “Heaven knows in our 32 years we have NEVER been put through a legal examination wringer like this,” she wrote. “Including having to purchase so much extra insurance for the law suits the county expects will be filed against us for our work on this project. (That’s what they told us!)”

She wrote, “Our only take away after negotiating (and losing) re the ridiculous insurance levels is that the County plans to sue us if the museum doesn’t turn around the way we say it should in the plan.” Stevens said she will “error on the side of conservative projections with them at all times so that YAA will exceed my projections.”

COUNTY PLAYS DAMAGE CONTROL

While Tottenhoff denies making any threats, the evidence clearly shows Stevens changed her review process after meeting with him. Even more telling, Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry would issue a memo blaming Stevens for the entire mess.

NEXT: BERTHA HENRY IN CYA MODE OVER YAA REVIEW