Lee Rosenbaum's culturegrrl column today includes a defense of the art sharing arrangement that Fisk University in Nashville entered into with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Such shares have been criticized by the Association of Art Museum Directors because they don't take into account the expectations of donors — in this case, Georgia O'Keeffe, who gave works owned by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, to Fisk for keeping in perpetuity.
In a letter to Fisk, the AAMD wrote:
Treating art as a fungible asset and using collections to pay for daily expenses will also
significantly undermine future fundraising for operations. If a museum or university can meet
its operating needs by selling art, why bother giving money when there are so many other
non profits facing severe financial challenges? Selling art to support operations is not viable as a
long-term financial strategy; it is the equivalent of spending down endowment principal.
Neither addresses the long-term sustainability of an institution. In the case of a college or
university, doing so irreversibly sacrifices incomparable learning opportunities for future
In effect, Fisk sold half its interest in the collection to Crystal Bridges for $30 million, money the historically black university needs. The agreement means that the works, which include important American and French paintings, will be shown at Crystal Bridges for a time, then return to Fisk. Crystal Bridges' first exhibition of the work will be in 2013.
The defense of the agreement comes from former CBMAA curator Chris Crosman, who left at the end of 2011. Crosman says, "If all of this sends a chill down the spines of potential donors of art work, so be it." Here's the link to the column and Crosman's convincing argument in favor of such arrangements.