Barnes Foundation Seeks to Move, Sell or Loan its Art Collection
On September 24, 2002, the Barnes Foundation filed
a court petition to “amend” its charter and bylaws. In reality, the petition
would eviscerate the Indenture of Trust that protects the charitable wishes
of Dr. Albert C. Barnes. Dr. Barnes endowed the Foundation with an unparalleled
art collection to be used primarily in art appreciation classes. If granted,
the petition would let the trustees remove the art collection to a full-time
museum against Dr. Barnes’ wishes and would allow the sale or loan of
artwork, remove all limits on the admission fees, and let the trustees
dismantle Dr. Barnes’ aesthetically significant installation of the collection
in the Merion gallery he built to house it.
The Foundation claims it can’t pay its bills and
public admissions must be increased. But consider these facts:
- In 1991 the Foundation was solvent on a $1.1
million budget. Since then, unchecked spending increases have
resulted in a 2002 budget reported at $4.5 million. Personnel-related
costs alone are now twice the entire 1991 budget and include $170,000
for “CEO” Kimberly Camp.
- Since 1991, the Foundation has steadily increased
the number of employees, in direct violation of Indenture limits on
hiring. The Attorney General’s office has consistently ignored inquiries
- In 1999 the Foundation took in roughly $1.1 million
in regular income. Thus, the Foundation was generating sufficient
income in 1999 to support its 1991 level of expenses, despite the
loss of income due to its irresponsible wasting of the original endowment.
In addition, there is the possibility of rebuilding the endowment by
selling over 150 unused acres the Foundation owns in Chester Springs.
- In 1995, the courts allowed Indenture amendments
increasing public attendance (cutting into the available art education
time), increasing gallery admission fees, removing endowment investment
restrictions, and permitted fundraising events at the Foundation's gallery.
All of these measures, plus addition of a gallery store, should have
significantly increased revenue to the Foundation.
- In 1993-95 the Foundation installed state of the
art security systems, with video cameras in every gallery room. This
system was installed, in part, to reduce security costs. Yet in 2001,
the Foundation spent more than twice what it did on security before
the system was installed.
- The Foundation refuses to publicly disclose the
results of a 1998 investigatory audit, despite its very public claims
of financial difficulties and its appeal to the public for support.
- The public admission issue is a red herring. Under
the present legal framework, over 60,000 visitors per year are permitted.
Blockbuster-level admissions would never be possible in the intimate
Merion gallery spaces or any other building that reproduces them. Building
a new museum to attract hoards of tourists will ensure that no one sees
the collection as it was originally intended to be viewed.
Since the early 1990s, the
Office of Attorney General has consistently ignored the increased spending
by the Barnes Foundation with the result that today the Foundation is
seeking to use its self-created financial problems to undermine the intent
of Dr. Barnes by eliminating all terms of the Trust Indenture. Anyone
can see that if one wanted to create a fiscal crisis to justify seeking
relief from trust terms (i.e. breaking Dr. Barnes’ will), all that is
required is to spend money like there is no tomorrow.
Is this how Pennsylvania treats
the wishes of charitable donors? Please write to the Attorney General,
whose duty it is to protect the wishes of charitable donors. Also write
to Governor Rendell, who supports moving the Barnes artwork to create
a Philadelphia tourist attraction.