San Francisco Arts Commission Executive Director Luis Cancel quits amid controversy 

Arts Commission Executive Director Luis Cancel has resigned as the head of the department tasked with providing money to artists, cultural centers and the symphony.

Cancel told Mayor Ed Lee he is quitting the job, which pays $147,633 not including benefits, so that he can move back to New York. But the resignation also comes shortly after news leaked that members of the commission felt Cancel had been spending too much time in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he reportedly had a second home.

On Tuesday, Lee thanked Cancel for his four years of service, but would not get into the details of the resignation. P.J. Johnston, president of the Arts Commission, also wouldn’t comment on the resignation or the commission’s concerns about Cancel’s travel, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters.

“I can tell you that Luis Cancel kicked off and oversaw a number of excellent initiatives as director of cultural affairs — particularly his efforts to bring the arts more directly to the people, such as the Art In Storefronts program and the ARTery Project on Market Street,” Johnston said in a statement.

The Arts Commission is budgeted to spend $10.3 million in the current fiscal year. Much of that money is spent on the symphony and cultural centers.

The commission also oversees the public art of major city buildings.

A city ordinance requires new municipal buildings to set aside 2 percent of hard-construction costs for public art.

Some of the major projects where millions of dollars are being spent on public art are at the new Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport, the rebuilt General Hospital, the Central Subway, the new police headquarters and the Public Utilities Building.

Cancel is the third high-profile employee to resign from Lee’s “city family” in as many weeks.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority Director Nathaniel Ford called it quits in June and the Mayor’s Office of Housing director, Doug Shoemaker, is taking a job with Mercy Housing California, a low-income housing nonprofit.

Cancel’s last day is July 8, and the Arts Commission will select an interim director July 11.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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