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Embattled Baltimore Clayworks hires interim manager

Retired executive Derstine to fill in while board searches for executive director

By Larry Perl, lperl@tribune.com

12:39 PM EDT, August 31, 2012

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Paul Derstine, retired executive director of a nonprofit global health company and former interim head of Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, has been named interim director of Baltimore Clayworks in Mount Washington.

Derstine succeeds Benjamin Schulman, who resigned under pressure in June amid questions about his leadership and financial problems at the longtime ceramics studio on Smith Avenue.

Derstine will serve as interim manager while the Clayworks board of trustees does a national search for a permanent executive director. As interim manager, Derstine will not be eligible to apply for the permanent job, said Gwen Davidson, president of the board.

"Our executive search continues. What this does is give us a lot of room and time to do that the right way," Davidson said.

Derstine, of Westminster, was president and chief executive officer of IMA World Health, based in New Windsor, from 1992 to 2009. IMA works to provide essential medicines and medical supplies, fight diseases, educate and train health workers and improve health care programs, according to its website.

Derstine, 71, was also interim director of Meals on Wheels from February to June of this year.

The search firm that Derstine uses, Transition Guide, is also the search firm for Clayworks. The firm asked Derstine if he would be interested in the interim job at Clayworks.

"It wasn't by design, but I have to tell you, retirement has not suited me very well," Derstine said. "I still have a lot of energy."

The 32-year-old studio in Mount Washington has been in turmoil since Benjamin Schulman resigned under pressure as executive director. He had succeeded Deborah Bedwell, one of nine potters who started Clayworks as an artists collective in 1980. Bedwell ran the nonprofit studio for 32 years before retiring last year, but returned temporarily in June, after Schulman, whom she had mentored, stepped down.

Bedwell said she would stay only through September, because she is president-elect of the National Council on Education for the Ceramics Arts.

Schulman, 40, was a protege of Bedwell's and only the second executive director in Clayworks' history, but he lasted only a year. Bedwell and Davidson said in June that they thought Schulman, a former artist and teacher, would be a good fit as director, but that he lacked an appreciation of "the culture" of Clayworks as a nonprofit arts organization with 835 paid members and an email list of 6,000.

Schulman came under fire after two resident artists, whose salaries were the lowest, were laid off. Clayworks also had an unspecified budget shortfall, which Bedwell said in June was anywhere from $35,000 to $150,000.

The studio was so unsettled that Davidson called a public meeting in June and announced Bedwell was coming back to fill in.

"We clearly have a financial challenge," Davidson told the audience in Clayworks' Classroom Building in the 5700 block of Smith Avenue. But she added, "This organization is not in crisis. We have some issues we have to deal with and we're going to do that."

Derstine said he has not discussed Clayworks' fiscal problems with studio officials, but he said that as far as he knows, "I am not inheriting a situation where there has been fiscal mismanagement. I have not sensed it's all that unlike anything else I have walked into. A lot of people knew we were having transition issues."

Derstein was scheduled to start the Tuesday after Labor Day.

"I'm looking forward to Tuesday," he said. "I think Baltimore Clayworks has a great past and a great future."