Woman slated to head Kelowna’s Rotary Arts Centre gives up the job

The woman named new GM at Kelowna's RCA is alleged to have misappropriated $500,000 from her last employer and will not take the job.

  • May. 3, 2012 6:00 a.m.

The woman who was to become the new general manager for the Rotary Centre for the Arts will not be taking the job.

Valerie Cooper, former president and CEO of The Art Gallery of Calgary, was named to the Kelowna position earlier this week, but controversy prompted a change of plans that was formally announced Friday morning.

“On May 1, 2012, Kelowna Visual and Performing Arts Centre Society released its May newsletter, which contained a statement that Valerie Cooper had been appointed the General Manager of the RCA,” read a media release submitted by Steve Faigan, president of the board of directors.

“After further discussions between KVPACS and Valerie Cooper, KVPACS has withdrawn its offer of employment, and Ms. Cooper has advised KVPACS that she cannot accept the position of General Manager of the RCA. KVPACS continues its search for a new General Manager for the RCA.”

Cooper is facing legal troubles over alleged misappropriation of funds, which is outlined in the story below.

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Posted: Thursday, May 4, 2012

The woman slated to become the new general manager of the Rotary Centre for the Arts is being sued over allegedly misappropriating funds from her last employer, The Art Gallery of Calgary.

Late Thursday afternoon, stories from Fast Forward Magazine revealed the Art Gallery of Calgary is suing Valerie Cooper, the former President and CEO of the gallery, to retrieve $500,000 in falsified expenses.

The article states affidavits filed with The Court of the Queen’s Bench in Alberta allege $185,129 worth of art work and gallery services cannot be adequately traced; Cooper is supposed to have spent nearly $67,000 on travel expenses the AGC board of directors claims it did not approve; and purchased over $19,000 on massages, monthly parking, credit card fees, home maintenance and clothing for her own use without the gallery’s knowledge.

According to earlier articles from the magazine, Cooper took over the gallery in 2004 with only $50 in its accounts and a mounting pile of bills, and was turning it’s fortunes around—although not without controversy.

The 2008 article revealed a series of alleged problems with artists, curatorial and administrative staff, largely pegging Cooper as one to put profits before the gallery’s purpose and alleging some art was compromised, or damaged, in her tenure.

As of Wednesday, the magazine only had an article stating Cooper left her position this past March without explanation, four years into a five-year contract.

But Thursday afternoon it had obtained the affidavits from AGC board chair Gwen Randall alleging Cooper charged the gallery for $12,126 worth of artwork for her own condo and the $89,250 to rent for the condo space—plus $185,129 of “fictitious framing”—without the board of director’s knowledge. The affidavit also reportedly details a non-existent loan repayment that cost the gallery some $124,000.

The Rotary Centre for the Arts is a city-owned facility, but no one at the City of Kelowna knew of Cooper’s legal difficulties until Thursday.

“We were not aware of this situation until the Capital News forwarded the story from the Calgary Herald,” said Tom Wilson, City of Kelowna communications supervisor.

“If the news story is correct, it could be a really unfortunate setback for the RCA, which has been through a traumatic time in the last five months and was poised to move forward in a positive direction.

“We don’t want to comment further until we’ve had a chance to discuss this with the Board of Directors and its hiring committee.”

Efforts to contact the board of directors for the Rotary Centre for the Arts went unanswered at press deadline. The last person to hold the position, Tracy Ward, recently passed away after a battle with cancer.

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