Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

House of Barnes

Let me recommend Neil Rudenstine's new book to anyone interested in the whole Barnes saga.  First of all, he completely demolishes the latest, desperate talking point of the anti-move crowd that the Barnes was not in terrible financial shape.  "The fundamental problem," he says, is that "the endowment effectively ceased to grow after 1961" (p. 153).  "Expenses continued to rise steadily at a far greater rate than the endowment, resulting in larger and larger annual deficits" (p. 154).  The Foundation, "in the face of steadily rising costs," was "essentially doomed" (id.).  By 1988 the endowment had fallen to about $7 million, or "about 30% less than its 1952 value," while expenses had increased by nearly 2,000% (p. 163).  The financial situation was "hopeless":  "more deficits were projected for the years immediately ahead"; "the reasonable expenses of running the most basic operations of the Barnes far exceeded the institution's capacity."  The "longer term finances of the Foundation were irremediable" (id.).

Though it's nice to have it all in one place, that's all been said before.  What's more interesting, I think, is his discussion of whether the Foundation was fulfilling its primary mission in the old location.  The organization's central purpose, according to its Indenture, was to advance "education and the appreciation in the fine arts."  Its primary concern was "spreading" the principles of "democracy and education" (p. 172).  The Indenture provided that "plain people" (the kind who might even eat at McDonald's!) should be admitted free of charge, and aimed to benefit people from "all classes and stations of life."

On this criteria, the old Barnes, Rudenstine convincingly argues, was a failure.  "We know that many people were prevented from visiting or attending courses" (p. 173).  Nor is there "any evidence at all of special and consistent efforts made to admit plain people free of charge or to determine the extent to which the Foundation was actively trying to spread democratic principles" (id.).  Looking at a micro level at the Barnes's education program, he finds that, "over a recent seven-year period," there were a total of 756 enrollments in all art courses combined -- about 100 a year.  Since the courses typically met once a week for a four-hour session, that meant the entire gallery was closed three and half days a week ... "in order to serve about 100 students" (id.).  Democracy!

Of that select group of students, the average age was 56, and the bulk came from "well-off suburban towns."  Only about 14 per year came from Philadelphia.  More than 40 students took the same course more than once, and more than 100 of the 756 enrollments were "repeats" (pp. 173-74).  In short, "the situation seems inordinately far from the strongly stated democratic purposes in the Foundation's Indenture" (p. 174).

As Rudenstine notes, "by far the strongest" opposition to the move has come from those who are "focused on the art collection and the Foundation's setting."  But -- "significant as these are" -- they "do not relate directly to Barnes' own stated purpose in creating his Foundation, or to the goals that he himself said he wanted to fulfill."  The "diverse city of Philadelphia would clearly offer the promise of greater openness and accessibility in a 'democratic' milieu" (p. 174).  In other words, what if the move to Philadelphia actually got us closer to Barnes's intent?  What if we think of his intent as more than just that a collection of artworks remain at a particular address?

Rudenstine concludes:  "[T]he art is there, installed as it was in Merion.  The education programs -- improved and expanded -- are there.  Special exhibitions will -- for the first time -- be possible. ... The primary purposes for which the Barnes was created will, reanimated, be at the center of the institution."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Deduction Debate

The Wall Street Journal runs two views of the charitable deduction:  the Cato Institute's Daniel Mitchell argues, among other things, that "there's just no evidence that the tax break leads people to increase their giving"; Diana Aviv of Independent Sector responds that "limiting the charitable deduction would be a tremendous mistake with potentially catastrophic consequences for groups that do good."

Some reactions from the Nonprofit Law Prof Blog.

Relatedly, Yale economics professor Robert Shiller in the New York Times:  Please Don't Mess With the Charitable Deduction.

The Fighter With The Lion Tattoo

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento asks:  Who owns the copyright to a tattoo?  The occasion is a lawsuit by a tattoo artist who tattooed a lion on an MMA fighter, whose likeness (including the tattoo) now appears in a video game.  Sergio seems to think the tattoo artist will prevail in a knockout.  I'm not so sure, for the reasons mentioned here and here, the implied license theory in particular.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"People want to take advantage of 2012's certainty" (UPDATED)

Wall Street Journal:  Fiscal Talks Spur Charitable Giving.

UPDATE:  The Nonprofit Law Prof Blog rounds up some other interesting links.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Many cases recognize that the government must have some discretion as to the choice of art it puts on the walls of its offices, even where the government is acting as an arts patron."

The First Circuit has affirmed the District Court's decision that it was not a First Amendment violation for the Governor of Maine to remove a mural from a state office.  The decision is here.  News story here.  Background here.

Eugene Volokh:  "Sounds right to me .... When the government puts up a particular item of speech (art, text, video, or what have you), not as part of an open-to-a-diversity-of-speakers public forum but instead because it likes that particular speech, it should later be free to take it down, even if only because the new administration now dislikes the speech, finds it inappropriate in this location, finds it too controversial, or what have you."

"Warhol Foundation May Proceed With Claims Against Insurer for Failure to Defend Lawsuits"

Story here.  Decision here.

Tell me again about the public trust ("featuring property from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art" edition)

Fifteen works being sold at auction.

85% Held in the Public Trust (UPDATED)

Zurich has misplaced 15% of its art collection, more than 5,000 works.

UPDATE:  Related story.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How It Should Be (UPDATED)

Several readers have called my attention to this story of a Boston church that is considering "deaccessioning" a 17th century book of psalms that could be worth $20 million.  The sales proceeds would be used not to acquire other psalm books (which would satisfy the Deaccession Police, were the church a member of the AAMD), but for general operating expenses.

What strikes me about the story is that this is how the debate about these things should go.

The people in favor of the sale make the case for why it's a good idea ("We want to take this old hymn book, from which we literally sang our praises to God, and convert it . . . into doing God’s ministry in the world today").

The people who oppose the sale make the opposite case ("Critics say they intend to argue that there is nothing so urgent, so dire, that requires the sale of precious assets").

Neither side gets to appeal to a conversation-stopping "ethical" principle that resolves the debate in their favor.  Nobody gets to impose sanctions on anyone.

It's refreshing.

UPDATE:  Apparently the debate is over; the pro-sale side won:  "After a lengthy and open debate, the congregation spoke with nearly one voice: 271 members voted in favor of the sale, and only 34 opposed it."  Compare and contrast to another instance where the members spoke with nearly one voice.

DIA Lawsuit

Some Michigan residents are suing the Detriot Institute for reneging on their promise of free admission if their millage passed.  The museum says the offer did not include special exhibits.  The museum's pre-vote FAQ page included the following:

What benefits will the voters receive in return for their financial support for the museum?
Counties that approve the millage will receive free unlimited general admission for its residents, including students taking field trips to museum, enhanced programs for students and seniors, and bus subsidies for seniors and student visits.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"I would not give a penny to the Met to buy another painting"

Philosopher Peter Singer says that "philanthropy for the arts or for cultural activities is, in a world like this one, morally dubious."