Consistent with Fisk University’s long stated fear, the Attorney General has today said that he intends to rip control of the Stieglitz Art Collection away from Fisk. Attorney General Robert Cooper has filed with the Davidson County Chancery Court a proposal that the Chancery Court transfer the Stieglitz Art Collection to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville. Under the terms of the proposal Fisk might continue to technically own the collection, but it would be displayed at the Frist and all decisions regarding the exhibition and preservation of the collection would pass to a committee made up entirely of non-Tennessee residents. In an outrageous theft from Nashville’s oldest university, nothing would be paid to Fisk for absolute control over the Collection.
Fisk has previously proposed to the court that it be allowed to share the collection with the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas for a payment of $30 million. Under this proposal, the art would be exhibited in Arkansas and at Fisk on a rotating 50/50 basis. The court previously stated that it would approve this sharing arrangement if the parties would alter certain provisions of the agreement with Crystal Bridges which were objectionable and there was no appropriate Nashville based alternative. Fisk is in the process of re-negotiating the Crystal Bridges sharing agreement in order to address those objections.
Fisk President Hazel O’Leary stated:
“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. The State of Tennessee and Metropolitan Nashville have decided that the art is more important than Fisk. We believe that continuing the education of our students is more important.”
Fisk is adamantly opposed to the Attorney General’s proposal and calls on Nashville to reject this outrageous taking of private property. Taking full control of an art collection, valued at $74 million in 2007, without the payment of any funds to Fisk amounts to nothing less than a theft of the art from Fisk.
The Frist Board of Trustees met on Wednesday, September 8, without discussing the proposal with Fisk. Additionally because the Frist facility is owned by the people of Nashville through the Metropolitan Development and Housing Authority, the approval of MDHA to Cooper’s proposal is required. While MDHA has not approved this transaction at this time, the Director of MDHA has filed an affidavit with the Court representing that he has spoken to all members of the MDHA and that all of those persons will vote in favor of the proposed action. It is our belief that the Attorney General misrepresented to the Director the circumstances facing Fisk and that the MDHA Board will reject the proposal at their meeting on September 14. Fisk calls on Nashville to tell MDHA this stealthy deal must be rejected.
Fisk President Hazel O’Leary testified in court on August 12th that Fisk would be required to cease operations unless it received a large infusion of cash. For this reason, Fisk proposed selling the one-half interest for $30 million, because that proposal not only generates the required cash infusion but Fisk retains the right to exhibit the art on its campus half the time. Cooper’s proposal generates no cash for Fisk and removes the art work from Fisk’s campus, possibly forever.
President O’Leary added:
“The proposal ignores the fact that Fisk, at the court’s direction, has spent nearly one million dollars on improvements to the art gallery where the collection is currently exhibited. So long as Fisk remains open, it can exhibit the art in accordance with the conditions originally imposed on it. It is only if Fisk closes that it becomes unable to exhibit the art. The proposal is premature and not necessary.”
“Moreover, this proposal was developed without an invitation to or participation by Fisk from the Attorney General, the Frist Center or the MDHA. This so-called partnership between the Frist Center, the State and the Metropolitan Government is nothing more than the display of raw power in an undisguised attempt to steal this art from its rightful owner. We will use every ounce of our energy to oppose this proposal. This is a shameful day in the history of Nashville.”
Nashville must reject this outrageous proposal by the Attorney General if for no reason other than to slow his unprecedented grab for power.