Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"A Small College, Painted Into a Corner"

Long story in the Washington Post today on the Randolph College deaccessioning controversy. The usual battle lines are drawn. On the one hand, "'If the arts aren't sacred at a liberal arts college, where are they sacred?' asks Laura Katzman, who resigned her tenured position in the art department in April, also in protest over the school's proposal to translate art into finance." And, on the other, "'I don't want to sell the art,' says [a member of the Board of Trustees], 'but if we don't do something, we're not going to have the college, and we won't have any art at all.'" The article does a good job of describing in some detail both the history of the collection and the financial problems the school is facing. (It mostly skips over the legal aspects of the dispute, saying only that "the school filed a circuit court motion recently asking a judge for permission to amend Smith's will to allow it to sell some of the artwork that her estate had donated to the college" -- and even that isn't strictly speaking true in that (a) Smith didn't donate "artwork" to the college, but instead funded a trust to buy artwork and (b) the school's petition asks the court to declare that the terms of the trust (not her will) already permit it to sell or, in the alternative, that they be modified to provide such authority. See here.)

There are some interesting details about the trust. The donor was Louise Jordan Smith, "an accomplished painter" who taught at the school. When she died in 1928, she left "almost everything" (about $28,000) to the school in the form of a trust to be used to "form a permanent collection of art." The college's art staff used those funds to buy 35 paintings -- now reportedly worth more than $40 million, and, in the view of a consultant hired by the school to help sort out its financial difficulties, an asset that can be "leveraged" to inject cash into the school's endowment.