Beleaguered Fisk University has run into a new obstacle in its attempt to use a donated art collection to improve its financial situation. Last Friday, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper proposed having the state arts commission take "temporary custody" of the 101-piece art collection, valued at more than $70 million.
The AG took the unusual step after Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle rejected a plan by Fisk to sell a 50 percent stake in the collection to a museum in Bentonville, Ark., for $30 million. The chancellor said the deal would violate the terms of the donation, made by renowned American artist Georgia O'Keeffe in 1949. The university has said it cannot afford to maintain the 101-piece Alfred Steiglitz Collection, named for O'Keeffe's late husband, a famous photographer, and needs the money to keep the school open.
Nashville Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle agreed with the school's argument at trial that it can't afford the upkeep of the collection, but urged the attorney general and the school to propose a "Nashville-based solution" that better adheres to O'Keeffe's wishes than to share it with the Crystal Bridges Museum founded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton.
Under Cooper's plan, the collection would be displayed under contract at Nashville's Frist Center for the Visual Arts. It would be accessible free of charge every day of the week, and would continue to be called the "Alfred Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University."
The state would pay the estimated $75,000 for conservation work on the art and insure the collection that the school says is worth at least $74 million.
The collection would be returned to Fisk once it can afford to care for and display the art there.
Fisk President Hazel O'Leary said in a statement that Cooper's proposal is unacceptable.
"Nashville has a simple choice to make, and that is whether it is better to keep the art in Nashville full time and have Fisk close or keep the art in Nashville half the time and have Fisk survive," she said. "The State of Tennessee and Metropolitan Nashville have decided that the art is more important than Fisk."
Sounds like a snatch-and-run to us.
Read the rest of the story in Business Week.