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Lincoln University, Barnes Foundation Settle Differences

Lincoln University, Barnes Foundation Settle Differences
Compromise would allow relocation of art collection; governor promises Lincoln millions
By Kendra Hamilton and wire reports


“We’re all on our knees with our hands clasped in prayer,” said Kimberly Camp, executive director of the Barnes Foundation, on the eve of a historic vote by the Lincoln University board of trustees that would determine her institution’s future.

Camp’s prayers and those of the Barnes’ supporters were answered when the Lincoln trustees voted overwhelmingly to accept a compromise that would allow the Barnes to change the makeup of its governance board late last month. Before the Barnes’ founder Dr. Albert C. Barnes died in 1951, he granted the historically Black institution in rural Chester County the right to nominate four of his board’s five trustees (see Black Issues, July 17). Now Lincoln will nominate five of an expanded 15-member board of trustees.

The vote removes the last hurdle in the Barnes’ fight to partner with the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Annenberg and Lenfest foundations in moving its storied art collection — with a value estimated between $6 billion and $25 billion — from its current home in Lower Merion Township to a site in the city of Philadelphia.

“This is great news, and another important step in the extraordinary partnership we are forging with Lincoln University,” said Dr. Bernard C. Watson, president of the Barnes Foundation’s board of trustees, in a statement following the vote.

“Today’s agreement ensures a much brighter and more secure future for the Barnes. It will enhance the foundation’s governance and help us finally overcome the financial pressures that have threatened bankruptcy and imperiled our educational mission. And it paves the way for moving the gallery to a location where the public will have much better access to this exceptional treasure.”

The vote, held in the Lincoln student union before a concerned audience of faculty, staff, alumni, government officials, press and the occasional protester, came after an impassioned appeal by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell stressing the importance of a “yes” vote.

Rendell noted that Lincoln could benefit financially by approving the governance agreement reached between Barnes’ trustees and the Lincoln executive committee only a week before. Regardless of how Lincoln voted, Rendell said he would seek $50 million from the state legislature to fund construction of a new science and technology building and an international cultural center.

The amount was in addition to the $30 million over three years that Rendell pledged in a Sept. 11 letter to the university. And it came with a promise by the governor that he would also help Lincoln in its $100 million capital campaign.

“Those here who are from Philadelphia will tell you that I am a pretty good fund-raiser,” Rendell said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Of the $275 million raised for the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, I probably raised $180 million of that.”

Before the vote, but after Rendell’s speech, Lincoln’s trustees met in executive session with state Attorney General Mike Fisher, who is on record in support of the Barnes Foundation’s petition to move the collection. No one was allowed to speak against the agreement in the public portion of the meeting.

By conceding to a more limited role with the Barnes’ board, Lincoln University brings to a close a year of acrimony that has played itself out in the press. Lincoln trustees claimed themselves blindsided by the Barnes’ petition before Montgomery County Orphans Court to change the foundation’s governance structure, rewrite the restrictive charter governing its operations and move the collection to a site on or near “museum row.” The Barnes’ leadership, meanwhile, cited a depleted endowment and litigious relations with its neighbors in arguing that the moves were necessary to the foundation’s survival.

Camp notes that she, for one, is ready for the drumbeat of negative coverage to end and the healing to begin.

“Every level of the ongoing harangue,” she says, “has hurt the foundation.”

There were stories in the press, for example, that without an agreement from the Lincoln board, the Barnes Foundation would have to go bankrupt. Labeling those reports “media hysteria,” Camp adds, “We were in the process of renegotiating our insurance and our underwriter was about to substantially increase our premium on the basis of those reports.”

The insurer wasn’t the only one in need of reassurance — Camp says she also fielded calls from a major foundation, concerned about its investment in the Barnes’ programs.

Despite “the hurt feelings and the angst” of the past months, Camp says, “It’s a hope of mine that when the din clears (Lincoln and the Barnes) can get past this.”

Rendell’s speech noted that the three foundations backing the Barnes move have pledged $1.25 million to support a joint art education program between the two institutions.

“We would love to be a part of that,” Camp says.

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