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NEWS : DROIT DE REPONSE - UK

As you know, I left the Directorship of the Centre de la Gravure et de l’Image imprimée (Center for Engraving and the Printed Image) of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation on September 1, 2021.

During my 15-month tenure, we had the opportunity to develop and submit a new five-year plan, to create a new website, to change the graphic identity of the Center, to manage and/or conceive 3 exhibitions (one of which was international in scope, featured 61 artists and was accompanied by a 288-page catalogue), to develop new partnerships, as well as obtaining additional subsidies for an amount equivalent to over 10% of the institution’s budget.

I am writing this text more specifically in response to the remarks made by Ms. Leoni to justify my dismissal in various press media outlets of the Sud-Presse Group (Nouvelle Gazette), on Antenne Centre, and also picked up in a shorter version by La Libre Belgique.
I would like to speak out on my own behalf, by presenting factual elements concerning the vague "financial, scientific, organizational and relational" grounds that Ms. Leoni cites in the local press, claims which she has at no time detailed or substantiated, neither in the press, nor in the employment-related documents regarding my dismissal (letter of termination, C4).
I formally contest these statements : Due to their gratuitous and repeated nature, they have become tantamount to defamatory harassment and slander, aimed at harming me and directly jeopardizing the pursuit of my career. They are simply a smokescreen for the lack of grounds and the instrumentalization of this dismissal, which was deemed by my trade union organization to be "manifestly unreasonable and abusive".

To go back to the context of the events, it is useful to point out that I was appointed to the directorship in March 2020, on the basis of a well-defined program, which I began implementing as soon as I took office in June 2020.
The selection procedure took place in November 2019. The choice of the Board of Directors had in fact initially come out, by a single vote, in favor of another candidate, who, a few months later, in February 2020, had withdrawn. I note that Ms. Leoni, at the time simply a board member, had voted for this candidate.
It was at the end of February 2020 that Ms. Catherine de Braekeleer, former Director of the Center, and Mr. Jean Degré, former Chair of the Center, contacted me again to find out if I was still interested in accepting the position.
I was thus hired in full knowledge of the facts, that is to say, of the program that I wanted to carry out with and for the CGII.
In retrospect, I now wonder if the other candidate’s withdrawal was not linked to the particular financial position (see below) in which the City of La Louvière, under the aldermanship of Ms. Leoni, had placed the Center.

Financial background :

I took office in June 2020 in the midst of the pandemic crisis.
A major challenge was created by the fact that about 6 months before my appointment, the CGII had been stripped of a key component of its operating budget : The City of La Louvière had basically decided to stop paying the gas and electricity bill for the Centre, an amount of some 70,000 euros per year, representing the equivalent of the entire operating budget for exhibitions (income - expenditure).
In other words, the programming for the next few years would have to be paid for out of the institution’s reserve fund, subject to the explicit approval of the Board.

I note that at the time of the withdrawal of this funding, Ms. Leslie Leoni, currently the Chair of the Board of Directors, was the Alderwoman for Culture of the City of La Louvière and, in an ancillary capacity, also a board member at the Centre de la Gravure.
Her appointment to the Chairship of the Center came later, when I took office. This decision might seem paradoxical, insofar as this appointment could place her in a situation of conflict of interest as both the representative of the City of La Louvière, which had just stripped the CGII of an amount equivalent to its operational budget, and as the Chair of a non-profit organization which would need to regain its financial stability [1].

Notwithstanding its reputation for apparent soundness and its influence, the CGII found itself in a situation which, in the long term, was going to be particularly fragile, requiring refinancing and a change of strategy.

As soon as I took office, I repeatedly approached the City to explain the delicate situation in which the Center found itself. The support of Ms. Leoni in this process, then still Alderwoman, was virtually nonexistent.

Moreover, as part of the five-year plan to renew the agreement with the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, we had applied for an increase in subsidies of approximately 100,000 euros, aimed at both reinforcing the scientific activities and at a policy of supporting young artists by paying fees, although in symbolic amounts only (200 euros), to young artists invited to exhibit [2]. We had not yet received the official response from the Minister regarding this application when I was ousted from the Center at the end of August 2020. If it had turned out that our subsidies would remain status quo, it could have given rise to an appeal [3].

In addition, in recent months I have obtained more than 100,000 euros in subsidies/additional aid, including 50,000 within the framework of the call for Un Futur pour la Culture (A Future for Culture), launched by the Federation Wallonia-Brussels with the virtual residency project www.eeeelll.com, a project of which I retain the intellectual authorship rights by contract / convention.
In addition to this amount, there was compensation for the loss of income due to COVID. Another application was in progress with the Walloon Region, which should have been answered by the end of September 2021, i.e. after my dismissal.

Finally, I note that in the letter explaining, at my request, the concrete reasons for my dismissal, it is argued that I had planned "additional costs incurred for the artists during the exhibition "Bye Blue His Story" (sic), whereas they were paid".
Aside from the fact that these production costs had been itemized in a budget approved by the Board of Directors, and that this policy was included in a five-year plan which was also presented and approved by the Board of Directors, the remark is confusing, to say the least, coming from an MP who is involved in a committee examining the status of artists and their fair remuneration in our Federal Parliament !
Finally, I note that in the meantime, not all of the artists in Bye Bye His-Story have even received that very nominal 200-euro fee as budgeted.

Interpersonal context

In la Nouvelle Gazette of September 3, 2021, Ms. Leoni pointedly refers to problems with staff relations, suggesting that my management caused 10 out of 21 people to fall ill !
These are incorrect and slanderous insinuations, which are deeply shocking, and also disrespectful of all the staff of the Center who have continued to work constructively under the difficult circumstances created by the health crisis. I would like to emphasize once again their involvement and the pleasure I had in working with the entire team and to express my gratitude to them.

The context created by organized absences and the destabilization maneuvers of the Board made the working context more difficult this summer.

To be precise, between July 10 and 17, the Board received and/or requested 4 personal input statements from members of the staff, who, by the Chair’s own admission, had consulted each other.
While 3 of these people were subject to exemption certificates in July 2021, one never stopped working. One of these 3 people, whose productivity and team spirit had been problematic since I took office, went on medical leave in March 2019 following a warning that I had sent to her after repeated, recurrent delays in the submission of texts and documents that were necessary in order for us to finalize certain objectives, in particular the completion of the new CGII website. Another person fell ill in early July 2021, shortly after some gray areas emerged in the management of her own « lettre de missions » , for which she was responsible (although having received a pay rise by the previous director for accepting some additional duties, she had omitted to to change accordingly her contractual missions). The absence of the third person is largely linked to personal factors, probably also combined with difficulties in supporting, for personal and religious reasons, the approach of inclusivity and openness that I was putting in place in my programming.

On the other hand, a 5th personal input statement was sent to the Board of Directors on 16/8 by a staff member who shed a completely different light on the facts, in my favor, but this was not the subject of a hearing. She testified explicitly to the fact that the situation regarding the personal input was a concerted effort, which was being prepared by at least two/three people since December 2020, and informed the Board on the gray areas relating to the management of the above-mentioned duties. The only response of the Chair was to suggest a meeting on the sole date on which this person had declared herself to be unavailable.

Organizational and scientific contexts :

As far as the organizational aspect is concerned, one only has to look at the concrete results of the projects carried out during these 15 months, despite the challenges of the health crisis that we are experiencing (3 exhibitions, one of which was international in scope, featuring 61 artists and a 288-page catalogue), the establishment of new partnerships, but also the redesign of the website and the new graphic charter to attest to the sufficient organizational and mobilization capacities of the team and their commitment, for which I again would like to thank them.

To use the term "scientific" from the angle of the relationship to the collection, I also think that the criticisms implied by Ms. Leoni are unjustified.
The hiring of a new collections manager in February made it possible within the span of a few months to make up for the backlog in data entry prior to my appointment (which had led to complaints from donors), both in the collection and in the documentation center.
The new website will allow better visibility of the collection, as the digitization and scanning of the collection will be continued. This is an ongoing process.

The website will also allow new ways to promote the collection via a kunstmatrix plugin that will allow you to set up virtual exhibitions online.
Moreover, the development of "collection" exhibitions (cf. above), to renew and refresh the repertoire of exhibitions (Surrealism, Cobra, Alechinsky, etc.) that have been circulating in recent years, was one of the tasks assigned to the curator and the assistant curator.
In addition, works from the collection were to be included in future collective and monographic projects.

As far as purchases are concerned, I took care to balance the purchases of works in support of young contemporary forms of relationship to the printed image with the purchase of more traditional works.

The pace of donations continued with great regularity : 390 works were added to the CGII collection from various private donors [4] .
And the loan of works from the collection for projects set up by partner institutions has been encouraged (cf. Exhibition Sorcières at Vanderborght organized by ULB Culture, currently in progress).

The projects currently in progress and/or due to open in the coming months [5] , which the CGII Board is endeavoring to pursue and bring to a successful conclusion, are of my own making and bear witness to both the variety of programming that was put in place and the unjustified nature of the reproach of distance from the collection that has been levelled at me.


Beyond these facts in response to the supposed reasons (financial, organizational, relational and scientific) put forward by Ms. Leoni in the press to justify the Board’s decision, it is important to look at the way in which the Board and the Chairship decided to deal with the issues raised by four staff members (after having encouraged them) within the space of a month and a week, in the middle of a holiday period.

The course of events raises questions because of the insidious violence and the biases to which it attests and seems at odds with the respect for workers, for all workers, and for the principles of equity and dialogue that Ms. Leoni claims to champion, referring in particular to ideological values.
Regardless of whether they be against me, or against the team that continued to work during these summer months.
The case was closed in two Board meetings, held a month apart, with no consideration for my response which was supported by a 16-page statement with 68 pages of annexes, and without the testimonies other workers or even feedback given to the Board of Directors in my favor being heard or taken into account.
All of this took place in an atmosphere of opacity, of non-transmission of elements which would have allowed me to defend myself (summary of the personal input received from staff, Board of Directors’ minutes), of selective non-response to emails, with contradictory instructions for the management of the CGII, implicit pressure to cancel my holiday leave. Not to mention inappropriate and discriminatory references to my sexual orientation.
All this drove me to consult the CESI.

On several occasions, in July and August, I asked that all the members of the team be heard and reiterated my openness to a fair dialogue for the whole team with the Board.
On 25 August, a member of the team was in contact with a board member and the Chair, who were keen to reassure the team, claiming that no dismissal was on the agenda.
Finally, on 31 August, before my dismissal, I sent a request for a risk analysis in order to formalize my request that the whole team be heard by an external, objective and neutral prevention adviser. My dismissal followed two hours later.
That speaks for itself.

The harassment has continued since the contract was terminated (blocking of access to my professional emails even before the termination of the contract, while repeated requests to access my office to retrieve personal belongings and documents remained unsuccessful for two months, until a trade union intervention).
More significantly, the indiscreet (in relation to GDPR regulations), defamatory and slanderous statements and insinuations expressed in the press are likely to cause me direct difficulty in my search for a new job. Aside from their inaccuracy, they seem driven by a desire to harm.

A new Director has recently been appointed to CGII, a friend and colleague of Mrs Leoni, M. Christophe Veys, mainly collector, teacher at ARTS2, gallerist and also (co-)curator of several shows.
The very same day the annoucement was made public, 9 February 2022, Mrs. Leoni made a publication on social media expressing the fact that she had been dreaming for more than 6 months to share and spread the news.
More than 6 months ago, endJuly beginning of August 2021, I was of course still in my position @ CGII and just beginning to face the organized storm that would lead to my dismissal.

Perspectives :

It seems to me that the Board of Directors of the CGII should re-examine the way in which this case was handled, with disregard for principles such as the right to defense, respect for working conditions and holidays, listening to all workers, and transparency of decisions and motivations.

It is true that the CGII is a non-profit organization and is therefore an entity subject to private law.
In this sense, there is theoretically nothing to prevent a Chair or a Board of Directors from getting rid of a director for reasons of incompatibility.
However, the difference here is that, in this case, most of its budgetary resources come from public money.
That the Director was, I should hope, chosen by the entire Board (under another Chairship, let us remember) on the basis of his or her artistic project and professional career in the field.
That the Chair who was appointed to head the Board came to it, as a director and later as Chair, certainly through her own personal interest, but also by co-optation and ex officio, as a result of the political mandates that she held and still holds.

Beyond my personal situation, which is directly impacted by this dismissal that, in substance and in form, is considered as "manifestly unreasonable and abusive" by my trade union organization, it seems to me essential that this symptomatic and non-isolated situation should serve as the basis for a systematic rethinking, which would be beneficial to the entire artistic ecosystem in the FWB, French-speaking Belgium.
Because this dismissal obviously raises questions of governance but also raises questions in relation to the method of appointment and the accumulation of multiple mandates within the Boards of Directors of cultural organizations and institutions that are subsidized with the public’s money.

Is it reasonable for one and the same person, by virtue of her status as political representative - in this case, an alderman then a MP to find herself in a position of virtual monopoly of mandates within cultural institutions in a given local context [6] ?
Should we not also avoid in the future that people appointed to represent cultural institutions or actors at the highest level could find themselves in a situation of potential conflict of interest, as was the case here ?
And finally, avoid the situation where the Boards of Directors of major institutions that are meant to represent the FWB at the local, regional, as well as international level, end up being small, incestuous and locally based [7] ?
Ensure that at least one representative of the FWB, the majority subsidizing authority in most cases, as well as professionals, collectors, experts in the wider field of cultural institutions and organizations, are represented on the Boards of these institutions ?

These are questions that would be useful for the cabinet of the Minister responsible for our oversight, the Minister of Culture of the FWB, to be able to examine in order to prevent similar situations from reoccurring.
In order to preserve the influence of the work of artists and art workers of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and the national and international impact of the FWB’s own collections.

Emmanuel Lambion
February 2021

[1Beyond that, Ms. LEONI was the Chair and board member of a large number of non-profit organizations/institutions in La Louvière, one of which she founded, Brock’n Roll, which is also active in the field of graphic arts. I would like to point out that in the meantime, Ms. LEONI has become a Member of Parliament, at the same time as retaining her positions within the various non-profits.

[2A policy that had never been pursued in the previous 25 years by the former leadership.

[3In view, in particular, of the joint missions of heritage conservation and support for creation that characterize the activities of the Centre de la Gravure (after the example of TAMAT, the Charleroi Museum of Photography and Keramis), of the public commitment of the current Minister of Culture to encourage good remuneration practices in the visual arts sector, and in view of the recent decision - which we welcomed - to make the Centre de la Gravure a center of excellence in the visual arts, or Keramis), the public commitment of the current Minister of Culture to encourage good remuneration practices in the visual arts sector, as well as the recent decision - which we welcomed - to increase by an additional 220,000 euros an institution in La Louvière that does remarkable work, the Keramis Museum.
The latter, with 5 FTEs in 2021, aims to hire and train a team of 8 > 12 FTEs, which is less than the current team of the Centre de la Gravure (15.8 FTEs).

[4Chantal Coppieters ’t Wallant - 28 works, Nico Hirtt / Jacqueline Cigrang : Synthèse Gallery Donation - 331 works including 2 Dalis, a Tapiès, Ubacs, Joan Aghib Estate Donation - 21 works, Tom Cardew - 10 works

[5e.g. Lines and Tracks, an exhibition revisiting the production of railway posters in Belgium, in relation to the evolution of our society and printing techniques as part of Europalia 2021 or the monographic projects related to the collection as part of the project www.eeeelll.com

[6One exception is Brock’n Roll, a non-profit organization founded by Leslie LEONI, which is also active in the field of the graphic arts (which, by the way, virtually makes it a competitor of the CGII with regard to the City of La Louvière in terms of subsidies granted). And I would like to emphasize the training and career of Ms. LEONI as a printmaker. I am obviously respectful of all this, of her experience and her background.
On the other hand, I think it is also worth pointing out that managing the strategic development of an association such as Brock’n Roll is not exactly the same thing as deciding on the long-term strategic orientations of the Centre de la Gravure, at a community, national and international level.

[7At the CGII, the Board of Directors (aside from the Director of the Centre, id est, at that time, myself) is currently made up of 5 people who are directly linked to the City of La Louvière, the Centre Region or the Pro vince of Hainaut.