Muse Reporting on popular and fine arts

Art in limbo

Culture | Financial woes put local art collections at risk
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 1/05/18, 12:53 pm

A Catholic liberal arts college nestled in Philadelphia’s Center City has drawn the angry glares of art museum directors across the country. La Salle University wants to sell off part of its art collection to help close a major funding deficit. The school plans to sell 46 pieces of art that could bring $4 million to $7 million, and possibly much more, La Salle spokeswoman Jaine Lucas said.

But the proposed sale, planned for March at Christie’s auction house, runs afoul of one of the art world’s cardinal rules: Money from the sale of museum art should only go to pay for more museum art. That rule, codified in the ethics guidelines of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), is meant to prevent museum directors and boards from cashing in on art meant for public enjoyment. But as more and more museums struggle financially, keeping up the old tradition could mean the end of publicly available art, especially in small and medium-size cities.

The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass., announced last summer its plan to sell about 40 pieces of art, including two paintings by Norman Rockwell, to raise a possible $60 million. The money would go toward a turnaround plan to improve the aging and financially distressed museum. The AAM and the Association of Art Museum Directors condemned the plan, and locals began to protest. The Massachusetts attorney general’s office obtained a court order to stop the sale while it investigated whether the nonprofit museum’s board had shirked its fiduciary responsibility.

In court filings, the museum’s lawyer contended the attorney general’s actions “threaten the museum’s future, preventing the museum from securing the financing needed to allow the museum to continue to contribute to the economic, educational, and cultural life of the community.”

Museums and nonprofit organizations across the country face a similar dilemma. They are sitting on millions of dollars worth of art but can’t generate enough income to pay the bills. Money from ticket sales and programs make up only about 40 percent of arts funding in the United States, according to a 2012 report by the National Endowment for the Arts, the most recent data available from that agency. Private donations and endowments account for 52 percent, and government funding takes care of the remaining 8 percent. A 2011 report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy estimated 55 percent of donations to art museums in 2009 went to the 2 percent of museums with budgets of $5 million or more.

Western culture traditionally has not asked the general public to bear the cost of enjoying fine art. The artistic revival of the Renaissance had two major backers: the extremely wealthy and the church. Pastor Kevin DeYoung in 2009 called on churches to re-examine their relationship to the arts.

“The church has a history of supporting the arts,” he wrote. “There is something unique about the visual arts—I’m thinking of painting, banners, murals, photographs, etc.—that are well-suited for inclusion in ‘sacred space.’ … Good art can help strip away pretension and pragmatism. Good artists will always be humble about their own limitations and besetting sins. And good Christians will always be eager to see truth and beauty wherever they can find it.”

Associated Press/Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision Associated Press/Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision Meryl Streep

Ladies night

Expect the Golden Globes this Sunday night to spotlight women and women’s issues. Female-focused movies and TV shows dominate the nominations slate, and many attendees plan to wear black to protest sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood.

Meryl Streep is nominated for best actress in a drama for her role in The Post, in which she portrays the late Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, who stood her ground against White House attempts to block publication of the Pentagon Papers. Streep is favored to win and is expected to reprise the criticism of President Donald Trump she voiced during last year’s ceremony, when she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award. In a New York Times interview published Wednesday, Streep revived her feud with the White House by calling out Melania and Ivanka Trump for not speaking against sexual harassment in light of the #MeToo movement. 

Streep still faces criticism herself for not taking an early stand against her longtime colleague Harvey Weinstein. Donald Trump Jr. joined the fray Wednesday, tweeting, “Amazing that the only person in all of Hollywood who didn’t know Weinstein was a serial assaulter (of course she did) has an opinion on this.” —L.L.

Associated Press/Photo by Gino Domenico (file) Associated Press/Photo by Gino Domenico (file) Sue Grafton

The lonely letter Z

Sue Grafton’s best-selling alphabet series of mystery novels will forever remain truncated at Y. Grafton, 77, died last week after a two-year battle with cancer. Her popular series of 25 mystery novels started with A Is for Alibi in 1982. Y Is for Yesterday came out in August, and Grafton’s husband Steven Humphrey said the writer struggled to come up with an idea for a Z novel while undergoing cancer treatment. “Many of you also know that she was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name,” Grafton’s daughter Jamie Clark said. “Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.” L.L.

Moving up

Earlier this week, NBC named Hoda Kotb co-anchor of the Today show and successor to Matt Lauer. NBC fired Lauer in November amid accusations of sexual assault. Kotb filled in as Lauer’s interim replacement and before that co-hosted with Kathie Lee Gifford the fourth hour of Today, which has more of a talk-show focus. Co-anchor Samantha Guthrie and Kotb make the first all-female team to lead the Today show. —L.L.

Baby makes seven

Fixer Upper stars Chip and Joanna Gaines announced this week they’re expecting a fifth child. If they’re looking for name suggestions, I propose “Magnolia” for a girl and “Shiplap” for a boy. The final season of the megahit home improvement show starring the Christian couple from Waco, Texas, is currently airing on HGTV. —L.L.

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital assistant editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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