Bid to Move Famed Art Collection Might Be Called OffPHILADELPHIA
The Barnes Foundation says it might have to abandon plans to move its priceless artwork to downtown Philadelphia because of opposition from Lincoln University.
Thirty private donors have already pledged $100 million toward a $150 million goal to help the cash-poor foundation build a new gallery in Philadelphia’s museum district and establish a large endowment, but all of that is threatened by the inability of the Barnes and Lincoln to resolve their differences over the Barnes’ governance, foundation chairman Bernard Watson said last month (see Black Issues, July 17).
If the Barnes withdraws its court petition to move the artwork, the promised funding would vanish and the foundation would likely declare bankruptcy, setting the stage for a takeover by Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher, Watson said.
The Barnes Foundation owns one of the world’s great private art collections, including an unparalleled 310 Renoirs, Cezannes and Matisses. But Barnes officials say the strict operating rules established decades ago by its late founder, Dr. Albert Barnes, have led it to the brink of insolvency.
Last September, the foundation’s trustees asked a judge for permission to break Barnes’ will and move the collection from the suburbs to a more visible location in the city. If approval is granted, three charitable foundations have promised to help the foundation raise the money it needs for a new gallery and endowment.
The plan has been held up by a dispute over control of the Barnes’ board of trustees.
Albert Barnes, who feuded with the Philadelphia art establishment, empowered Lincoln to nominate four of the five trustees. But the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Lenfest Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation insisted as a condition of their financial support that the Barnes board be expanded from five to 15, with Lincoln still nominating four. Lincoln has asked Orphans’ Court Judge Stanley Ott to block the petition.
Officials from the Barnes and Lincoln met several times over the summer to try to resolve the impasse, but both sides said the talks were fruitless and no further meetings are scheduled.
Frank Gihan, president of Lincoln’s board of trustees, said the university would consider a reduced role on the Barnes board if the three charitable foundations, as well as others involved in private philanthropy, promise financial support of Lincoln’s $100 million capital campaign.
Lincoln “hasn’t historically been supported by the private sector and to some extent by the public sector. So we would welcome that,” he said. “Some support of Lincoln and its initiatives would certainly help relieve any diminished role on the Barnes.”
Watson called the idea a “nonstarter” and said it was never mentioned at any of the summer meetings. Lincoln’s fund-raising campaign “is not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to the Barnes, not to Lincoln,” he said.
Fisher urged both sides back to the bargaining table — and pleaded with Barnes not to withdraw its petition.
“The foundation’s proposals represent the best opportunity to ensure the future viability of the foundation, something that is extraordinarily important to Philadelphia and the region,” the attorney general wrote in a letter to Watson.
— Associated Press
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