Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. has fired Julio Encarnacion III as Government House chief conservator after he apparently failed to produce anything in return for his annual taxpayer-funded salary of $78,500.
Bryan’s Communications Director Richard Motta Jr. confirmed Friday that Encarnacion has been terminated, and left no records of any work he might have done.
When asked what Encarnacion had accomplished during his employment, Motta was frank: “Honestly, I wish I could tell you. That was obviously before my tenure here with Government House.”
Encarnacion, 27, is a history enthusiast and private collector with no formal education, experience or professional training in art conservation. He had been working since April 16 in the position created for him after he appealed to former Gov. Kenneth Mapp directly for a job.
“I reached out to the governor myself, and I said that I would like to have the position as a conservator,” Encarnacion told The Daily News at the time.
While Encarnacion has no formal training in conservation or collections management, he pointed to his “professional membership” in the American Alliance of Museums as evidence of his qualifications for his new position.
Joseph Klem, director of public relations for the American Alliance of Museums, provided a statement clarifying that membership in the organization is open to all for an annual $90 fee and does not indicate formal training or professional achievement.
Art conservators typically have years of training and advanced degrees to prepare for the complex work required of the profession, according to those with experience in the field.
Encarnacion has degrees in business administration and management from Lynn University in Florida, and his employment history includes positions as a marketing intern, production supervisor, contract marketing analyst and marketing account manager.
But Encarnacion, who operates the website and social media pages “The Native Son USVI,” said his lack of qualification shouldn’t keep him from managing the territory’s most valuable, publicly owned art and antiquities.
“The main thing is, I have the passion for it and that’s what drives me to do what I’m doing now,” Encarnacion said in an interview shortly after his hiring was announced.
Motta said Friday it’s unclear whether Encarnacion did anything substantive in the approximately nine months he was on the job.
Following months of stonewalling by the Mapp administration, Motta released a list of publicly owned art and antiquities controlled by Government House just over 48 hours after receiving a request from The Daily News.
It’s unclear when the list was assembled or how many of the items on it survived hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Jessica Unger, Emergency Programs coordinator for the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, said in May that the National Heritage Responders sent volunteers with expertise and training to museums and cultural institutions in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria to help save pieces damaged by the storm.
The responders provide free art conservation to disaster-affected areas and were available to travel to the Virgin Islands to assist with the territory’s historic preservation efforts.
The team must be invited by the affected area’s government, however, and Unger said the responders received no such invitation to assist with preservation efforts in the Virgin Islands.
Mapp officials repeatedly insisted that Encarnacion must first finish his own evaluation of the collection before any information about specific pieces would be released.
Government House spokeswoman Angela Gordon said in September that “Mr. Encarnacion is currently transferring all manually collected data into Word documents to be reviewed internally and approved. You can expect to see a series of catalogs released in the next few weeks of his inventory and condition assessment reports done for all three islands.”
Months passed with no further information about the collection, and former Attorney General Claude Walker said in December that Encarnacion had personally assured him that he was hard at work.
“It’s on track that in the very near future a number of these items will be displayed, but he has to work on that catalog to put all these things together as he’s describing to me, and he’s working around the clock to do that,” Walker said at the time.
There’s no evidence that Encarnacion evaluated or inventoried the collection, and no catalogs were ever released.
Felipe Ayala, chairman of the St. Thomas-St. John Historic Preservation Commission, surprised senators at a committee hearing in February when he said priceless art and antiques are being stored, “all over the place” on St. Thomas, including the Franklin Building in Market Square, Fortress Storage and elsewhere.
Ayala also said he wished more items were destroyed in the hurricanes because much of the government’s collection comprises reproductions and other “crap.”
Senators subsequently passed legislation establishing the Preservation of Historic Government Collections Act and providing for a territorial curator and oversight committee responsible for artworks and cultural artifacts owned by the government, including the Government House collection of publicly owned items.
Mapp vetoed the legislation, and senators overrode that veto in June, forcing the measure into law.
The Mapp administration did not provide any evidence of its compliance with the law, and Motta said Friday that the Bryan administration is determining how best to proceed with management of the Government House collection.