Last Week in Brief — 1/4/2008

Key departures and financial woes rock institutions

Face of Essence Exits
Susan L. Taylor, considered the driving force behind Essence magazine, has left the publication after 37 years to focus on an organization she founded for troubled children, Essence Cares.

Taylor joined Essence in 1970 as a freelance fashion and beauty editor, becoming editor in chief in 1981. She held that title until 2000, when she was promoted to publications director of Essence, which was purchased by Time Inc. (a division of TimeWarner) in 2005 . Most recently, Taylor, 61, had been the magazine’s editorial director and author of it’s “In The Spirit” column.

With Taylor tied to the image of the magazine, her departure marks a significant change for Essence. “The timing would never be right,” says media expert Keith Clinkscales , senior vice president of content development and enterprises of ESPN. “If there was a Mount Rushmore of black media, her face would be right there. But she was smart enough to build a successful brand that can survive and be successful without her.”

For Taylor , the timing was prime for her to pursue her good works. “For me, 37 years in publishing and at a company I love is a hell of a run. With some of the most extraordinary and committed people on the planet, I did what I came to Essence to do. Together we built a brand that is one of the most respected throughout the black world, is the hallmark of excellence and commitment to the community,” says Taylor, who will release her fourth book this month, All About Love (Urban Books).

“The truth we middle-class African Americans must face is that millions of our young are in peril, and the state of emergency is only worsening on our watch. In some cities fewer than 20% of our children are graduating from high school; 58% of black fourth graders are functionally illiterate; failing schools are the pipeline to a for-profit prison system sucking the life out of our communities; murder is the No. 1 cause of death among our boys. These chilling statistics pushed me to create Essence Cares and its parent, the National Cares Mentoring Movement. For me, it’s now or never.”

Troubles at Fisk
Fisk University, founded in 1866 to educate newly freed slaves, is currently facing battles on several fronts. According to GuideStar.org, which tracks the finances of nonprofits, Fisk had operating losses totaling more than $7 million in 2005 and 2006. In addition to this, the university is embroiled in a legal battle over art donated by painter Georgia O’Keeffe, which includes O’Keeffe’s 1927 painting Radiator Building – Night, New York and works by Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, Paul Cezanne, and Alfred Maurer.

Fisk’s efforts to sell the 101-piece art collection have been snagged by a lawsuit. At press time, Fisk was seeking court approval to sell a 50% stake in the art collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art for $30 million. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., is fighting the sale because of O’Keeffe’s wishes

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