CoolTan Arts and Michelle Baharier

CoolTan Arts is an award-winning charity that improves mental wellbeing through participation in arts activities.

Michelle Baharier

Michelle Baharier is one of the founders of CoolTan Arts and was CEO between 2010 and 2015. Her passion and determination contributed significantly to establishing CoolTan Arts and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health.

The Situation

During 2015, issues regarding Michelle’s management style came to the attention of the Board of Trustees. Several staff, board members, volunteers and participants complained of bullying and harassment and of these, a significant number left. Out of concern for the health and safety and wellbeing of staff, volunteers and participants, the CoolTan Arts Board of Trustees was forced to suspend Michelle in October 2015 whilst an urgent investigation into the allegations was undertaken. The Board of Trustees decided to bring in external HR and Legal professionals to investigate the complaints. The complaints were upheld and Michelle was subsequently dismissed in May 2016. She challenged the results of the investigation and an Appeal was started. Michelle has delayed the Appeal by several months by asking for hearings to be postponed or not appearing. She has organised protests against CoolTan Arts in person and on social media causing some distress to current staff and participants.

Current Management of CoolTan Arts

Following Michelle’s suspension, the Charity has been managed by the Board of Trustees and two interim CEOs. The Board comprises the Chair Lillian Nalumansi, Roger Endacott, Richard Truss, Chris Board and Rebecca Wilson who stepped down in Spring 2016. Herbie Taylor, former Operations Director at CoolTan Arts, stepped into the role of Interim CEO between October and July 2016. Since then, the position has been held by Tom McCabe, former Interim Operations Director. As a result of Ms Baharier’s dismissal, CoolTan are sorry to have experienced the departure of three of its patrons this year.

Charity Commission for England and Wales

The Charity Commission for England and Wales has undertaken an investigation into a number of issues relating to CoolTan Arts, raised by Michelle Baharier in June 2016. The report came out in November 2016 and it confirmed all of Michelle’s issues were unsubstantiated. The investigation showed that some actions are required as a result of the management of previous years:

  • to prevent future CEOs from having so much autonomy and ensure the trustees have proper oversight
  • trustees should provide greater clarity and always act in accordance with the charity’s conflict of interest policy
  • there should be greater awareness among trustees of financial controls

Funding

The Charity’s management team would like to reassure stakeholders that the financial health continues to remain a priority. With professional advisers and guidance from the Charity Commission, they are actively addressing the challenges posed by both the departure of Ms Baharier, alongside the changes in the funding environment over the last few years. The provision of services, and security of jobs, is being closely monitored as CoolTan works urgently to refocus, and be in the strongest position to move forward. CoolTan would like to wholeheartedly thank their funders who have supported them through the years, and especially during this time of change.

Concluding

The safety, and physical and mental wellbeing of beneficiaries, volunteers and staff at CoolTan Arts is and will remain a priority. CoolTan owes a great deal to Michelle, who was instrumental in forming the Charity. CoolTan Arts would also like to thank former staff members who played a key role in its success. We hope to conclude this situation as soon as possible so that the Board of Trustees and staff can continue to focus their attention on supporting the mentally distressed.

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