J.D. Beltran, an artist and former faculty member at the California College of the Arts, is suing the San Francisco school and an associate provost for firing her after she blew the whistle on alleged financial misdealings and filed a harassment complaint.
Beltran, who took over as director of the school’s Center for Art and Public Life (now the Center for Impact) in 2017, alleges that the school siphoned funding intended for the center from private donors, foundations, and other sources to cover for its mismanaged budget and operating shortfalls. She also claims that the provost, Julianne Kirgis, advocated that Beltran commit fraud as part of her own fundraising.
“My entire working life was so sabotaged in the most unexpected ways,” Beltran told Artnet News. “I have never been treated like this by any employer or supervisor in my life.”
A former lawyer, Beltran is currently representing herself. Her artistic resumé includes shows at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, among others.
“The things [Beltran] put in her lawsuit about monies donated to the school and about her job supervisor are simply not true,” said Mike Vartain, an attorney for the school and Kirgis, in an email. He added that Beltran’s position “ended when [she] became unhappy with a change of personnel assigned to serve as her job supervisor.”
In her 73-page complaint, Beltran alleges that the trouble started in March 2019, when she discovered that nearly $180,000 of funding promised to the Center for Art and Public Life was missing. In May, Kirgis allegedly blamed her for it, saying her fundraising had fallen short. Beltran claims that Kirgis suggested she undertake an unethical fundraising practice, asking a foundation for money for a project that had already been funded.
After Beltran sounded an alarm, she said she received assurances from C.F.O. Terry Aguiar that “this won’t happen again.” But, within weeks, Kirgis allegedly accused her again of failing to raise sufficient funds.
In May, Beltran filed a harassment complaint. While it was being investigated, she said she learned that she had been demoted to a position below Kirgis, who had not previously been her supervisor. Kirgis then allegedly deleted information from a student database Beltran oversaw, only restoring it once Beltran again went to human resources.
Vartain gives a different accounting of events, saying Beltran made it clear that she would not take supervision from Kirgis, and that when Kirgis expressed her displeasure at this, Beltran interpreted this as harassment.
The school rejected Beltran’s harassment complaint. Afterward, Beltran said that Kirgis made her job nearly impossible to perform, including by stonewalling her attempts to submit staff evaluations and making her duplicate her work. In November, her $560,000 staff budget was cut to $311,000; her staff was cut from five to three.
Then, in November, nine months after Beltran initially flagged the alleged misappropriation of funds (and five months after the harassment complaint), she was dismissed. According to the suit, she never had a performance review in her tenure at the school, and was only retroactively given this one, which was negative, after being fired. Since he had already left the job, she had no way of rebutting the review, and it became part of her employment record.
Beltran claims that Kirgis’s campaign of harassment has only continued, noting that the provost has locked her out of Google drives that contain years of her work and intellectual property. Without those materials, or her student reviews, she said, she is unable to apply for other jobs.
Beltran, who is of AAPI descent, noted in her complaint that she was the only person of color working for Kirgis and the only one to be demoted.
She is seeking a full financial accounting from the school, and demands that misappropriated funds be placed in a trust to be used for their intended purposes.