First, you should read this well-written -- and researched -- article in Creative Loafing by Megan Voeller [Link]. I went to the Santaella re-branding/opening last night, which will be reviewed in a separate post here. A few observations...
Most organizations manned by or comprised of very opinionated and passionate people (like artists) are no strangers to disagreements and drama. It happens. In a time of little money even more so. Several people that I spoke with were unhappy with Ms. Voeller's article. One, feeling stung by her article, loudly voiced displeasure, then jumped to make certain what was said between us was "off the record", and I have kept it so. From what I gleaned through speaking (on the record) with several artists at Santaella, she presented both sides fairly and realistically. In this type of situation this is not going to make a writer many friends at the moment.
I heard first-hand comments about how Maida Millan's leadership was attracting "beer-drinkers", instead of the much more coveted wine variety. The desire to turn back the format to the Gallery 1906 days was mentioned. In life, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to turn back the clock. The very middle class buyers that fueled those happier days have been decimated by the economic downturn and not just in Tampa. There is more competition for fewer dollars now. What the Santaella artists are experiencing is widespread in this arts market and many others. It is natural that studio residents are scrambling to increase commerce, but the line between doing this gracefully and grotesquely is a thin one.
One of the dangers of the freeform format is that Santaella will turn into just another rent-a-wall gallery. This rarely works well for the artists. There are and have been several in the Bay area over the years. It's attractive to artists who cannot get shows on the merits of their work, or due to marketing ineptitude, but the result is an uncurated mush that is rarely rotated and soon fades into wallpaper indistinguishable from background radiation. Most prospective buyers of the kind that every artist wants aren't interested in unvetted art.
In spite of the present tumult and regrettable fallings out, I believe that the balance at Santaella will settle down considerably in a year or two, in terms of reality vs expectations.