Wednesday, November 30, 2011

BREAKING: A little joy in Fiskville today (UPDATED)

Fisk University has won its appeal in the latest round of the Stieglitz Collection litigation.  It gets to enter into a sharing arrangement with the Crystal Bridges Museum -- and doesn't have to set aside $20 million of the $30 million pricetag in a separate endowment.  Story here.  Background here.  More later when I've had a chance to read the opinion.

UPDATE:  I've now read through the opinions.  The majority affirms the basic cy pres ruling, but holds that "the court exceeded its statutory authority ... when it decreed how the proceeds of sale would be spent":  "The court has no authority ... to effectively decree the manner by which the Collection would be used by Fisk in furtherance of its educational mission."   The dissent took more of a Donor Intent Police approach:  to permit the University "to monetize the Collection ... in order to infuse much needed capital" would "convert[] the Collection into money, which is in direct conflict with Ms. O'Keeffe's expressed intent.  The record clearly reveals that Ms. O'Keeffe never intended for the Collection to be sold or otherwise monetized in order for Fisk University to pay its general operating expenses."  It was therefore permissible for the court to allow Fisk to keep $10 million -- so that it can "rise above its current financial predicament" -- but order the rest placed in a restricted endowment.

Speaking of the Donor Intent Police, Lee Rosenbaum calls Alice Walton a "donor-intent violator" and calls for the AAMD to "strongly exert its influence" on Crystal Bridges for its bad behavior in saving Fisk from bankruptcy and keeping the Stieglitz Collection in the public domain.  But it's important to note that there's no way to preserve the donor's intent here.  The trial court already found that "Fisk's financial situation rendered strict compliance with the conditions impracticable," that "due to Fisk's financial situation, it was impracticable for Fisk to comply with Ms. O'Keeffe's condition that the Collection be maintained at and displayed by Fisk."  The question to be determined in the litigation was which option most "closely approximated Ms. O'Keeffe's charitable intent" ... and the answer was Alice Walton's:

"To address Ms. O'Keeffe's condition that the Collection be displayed intact, the [Crystal Bridges] Agreement provides that the Collection will be displayed at the institutions on a rotating basis so that it will be available on the Fisk campus during at least two years of each student's four year matriculation at Fisk.  With respect to the maintenance and display conditions, the agreement ... charges that [the Collection] committee, when determining what is in the best interest of the Collection, 'to take into account the conditions originally set out by Georgia O'Keeffe ....'  In accordance with the original conditions, no item of work included in the Collection may be sold or exchanged, no item of work may be added to the Collection, and the Collection will be known, in perpetuity, as the 'Alfred Stieglitz Collection.'"

So the Tennessee courts have ruled that, far from being a donor-intent violator, Walton is actually the closest donor-intent approximator in this case.  I suppose reasonable minds could differ about that -- one could argue that one of the Attorney General's alternative proposals was actually closer to O'Keeffe's intent, as if there were some kind of ruler to measure the distance between these things -- but it would be exceedingly odd for the AAMD to "strongly exert its influence" on Crystal Bridges for doing what the courts have sanctioned as the closest possible substitute for the donor's intent.