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Casper Artists’ Guild members file suit against ART 321 challenging legitimacy of leadership

Art 321 board hears public comment Tuesday 6/29/21 (Gregory Hirst, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — Members of the Casper Artists’ Guild have filed a complaint in district court against ART 321’s executive director and current board of directors.

At issue are organizational changes brought about since executive director Tyler Cessor took the post in January 2020. Those changes effectively shifted certain responsibilities — marketing, exhibitions, etc. — from traditional Guild volunteer committees to professional staff and advisory boards made up of members from around the region.

A release from plaintiffs states that Cessor has “acted to strip members of any say in management decisions and shield the Board from any accountability,” and that at least three changes to the Guild’s bylaws have been made to “centralize power in a few persons who are not accountable to members.”

“ART 321 is taking these complaints very seriously,” Cessor said in a statement. “It was a surprise to hear some of the allegations made, particularly coming from past board members who were either the presidents who led the process or were on the board when many of these decisions were approved by them.”

Cessor told Oil City last summer that the majority action to transition those committee responsibilities to staff took place in November 2020. He also noted that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had made the traditional regular meetings of volunteer groups untenable. 

Two of the six complainants are past presidents of the Guild, five are former members of the Board of the Guild, and one is a former funder and supporter.

The complaint challenges the legitimacy of many of ART 321’s current board of directors, saying they were not elected ”in compliance with the Articles of Incorporation of the organization.” Guild members are requesting a membership meeting where a new set of officers may be elected by the membership.

The suit alleges that no statutorily required annual membership meeting has been held since Cessor took over. Guild members question the accuracy of membership roles and believe the organization’s financial outlook will suffer without key donors and COVID relief funds. The suit also alleges instances of physical intimidation by Cessor against then-President Vickie Primrose. 

“As an organization we deny many of the allegations and characterizations made in this suit,” Cessor wrote. “We are confident that the evidence and organizational records will show that ART 321’s Board of Directors has conducted the governance of the organization with particular concern for the success and community impact of the organization and investment in creating an inclusive environment for all in our community and members.”

Legacy Guild members told Oil City last summer that disagreements had emerged over what they described as “an incredibly political direction” taken by ART 321 under Cessor’s tenure.  

“ART 321 continues to be steadfast in its commitment to nurture and support all artists in Wyoming from a diverse range of mediums, cultural backgrounds, and communities, increasing access to arts opportunities for all is at the core of every step we take,” Cessor wrote.

Formed in 1924 and incorporated as a nonprofit in 1978, the Casper Artists’ Guild’s stated purpose in its bylaws is “to stimulate interest in art and to broaden and deepen creative art experiences.” It has been doing business as ART 321 since acquiring the 16,000-square-foot building on South Ash almost seven years ago.