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 about this.
  • 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.

Mike Fisher
Attorney General
Sixteenth Floor, Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17120
e-mail Attorney General Fisher
Edward Rendell
225 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
e-mail Governor Rendell