Thursday, March 30, 2006
The Barnes Foundation is getting $25 million from the State of Pennsylvania to help with its move to downtown Philadelphia. Tyler Green takes issue with the statement in this Philadelphia Daily News report that "[r]ecently, the foundation has been hit with financial woes, which cast a shadow over its mission and collections." He points out that "those woes go back a decade or so." Actually, they go back even further than that. When Barnes died in 1951, the Foundation's endowment fund was $10 million (or about $75 million in today's dollars); by the early 1970s it was already down to about $6 million (in part because, under the original trust indenture, the Foundation could only purchase federal, state, and municipal bonds). But Tyler's right that it was in the mid-90s that things really got ugly: by the end of the decade the endowment had fallen to around $1.5 million. The real question this announcement raises, however, is why couldn't the same money have been earmarked towards keeping the Barnes in its original location? I think it was agreed during the court proceeding that, at most, a $50 million endowment fund (combined with a more sensible investment policy) would have been enough to keep the museum going in its current form (which is to say, in accordance with Dr. Barnes's stated intentions). Wouldn't a combination of this sort of fundraising, the sale of non-art assets (e.g., real estate), and possibly even, as a last resort, the deaccessioning of a small part of the collection (the total collection is sometimes said to be worth $20 billion) have been preferable to violating the settlor's intent so drastically by relocating the collection?