Thursday, May 31, 2007

To sell or not to sell?

The Chicago Tribune takes a tour through all the recent deaccessioning battles, including of course Thomas Jefferson University's Eakins sale and the Albright-Knox's ongoing series of auction sales. It also sheds a bit of light on the Fisk University-O'Keeffe dispute. I've wondered in the past just what the Tennessee AG is seeking to accomplish there: "Is it that the works not be sold at all, which would presumably make the 'radical conservatives' happy? Or is it that they be sold for a price higher than the one Fisk originally agreed to (on the basis of an appraisal that was two years old at the time), which would presumably make Yale's Jock Reynolds happy but might also result in the O'Keeffe painting not going to the publicly accessible O'Keeffe museum but rather to some private collection somewhere?" Well, the answer now seems to be the former: "My goal is, hopefully, to keep this collection intact. This is a collection that I think any university, any city, would be proud to have as part of its cultural offering." That, of course, is precisely the position the O'Keeffe Museum was taking in the lawsuit -- at least until it agreed to the settlement by which it would acquire the O'Keeffe painting Fisk wanted to sell, at a bargain basement price, in exchange for dropping its objection to the university putting another painting from the collection, "Painting No. 3" by Marsden Hartley, on the open market. Now, the AG initially approved that settlement, so the question I still have is what happened afterward that convinced him the collection should be kept intact, even if it means Fisk is stuck with the kind of financial troubles that led it to want to sell the two works in the first place? Was the collection not worth keeping intact if the price the museum was paying for it under the settlement was near its current fair market value? Did the fact that the museum was getting a very healthy discount somehow awaken the AG to the notion that any university would be proud to have the Stieglitz collection as part of its cultural offering?

And here's a related story about another way Fisk might be able to solve its financial woes:

"Financially troubled Fisk University, plagued for years by weak and inconsistent fund raising, has recruited a seasoned institutional specialist to help reverse its fortunes and help it try to catch up in the all important fund-raising game. Dr. Sulayman Clark, who quietly joined the Fisk staff in early April as vice president for institutional development, got his start in fund raising in the mid-1980s as a special assistant to the president of Hampton University. He has since helped other schools craft ambitious ideas and raise millions of dollars for their endowments as a member of the executive teams at Morehouse College, Tuskegee University and, most recently, North Carolina Central University."