The board of the Washington Art Consortium, a collective run by seven Washington State art museums, announced that it will disband. The consortium’s central collection, which comprises more than 400 pieces of 20th-century American art, will be distributed to six of the member museums, along with a $2.3 million endowment fund for their care and maintenance.
Formed in 1976 by the Seattle-based philanthropist Virginia Wright, WAC was founded for the purpose of bringing great works of art to Washington state and encouraging collaboration among its art museums. Its members are the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, Seattle; the Museum of Art, Washington State University, Pullman; the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane; the Seattle Art Museum; the Tacoma Art Museum; the Western Gallery at Western Washington University, Bellingham, which houses the collection; and the Whatcom Museum, Bellingham. The collection includes work in a variety of mediums and big names like Jackson Pollock, Agnes Martin, Susan Rothenberg, Jasper Johns, and Larry Clark.
Sylvia Wolf, WAC’s board president and the director of the Henry Art Gallery in Washington, told ARTnews that the decision to disband was the result of changes in its member museums over the years. “When WAC began, the member institutions were of like size and had similar collections and smaller staff,” Wolf said. “Today, our member institutions are varied in scale and scope. They have professional staffing, and offer different, but robust programs.” Based on this, Wolf continued, the board decided WAC’s resources would be “better used directly by the statewide member museums, rather than duplicating the work by continuing with WAC as a separate entity.”
The board consulted a panel of three independent arts experts on how to best disperse WAC’s collection and endowment assets. Having considered each of the member institution’s current collections and programming (excluding the Seattle Art Museum), the experts recommended the following pairings for the WAC collection:
- The Western Gallery at Western Washington University will receive 98 American works on paper from 1945 to 1975.
- The Henry Gallery at the University of Washington will receive 185 American photographs from 1970 to 1980.
- The Museum of Art at Washington State University will take the Mary Margaret Aiken and Richard Aiken Collection of 20th Century Prints, a total of 24 works.
- The Safeco Collection of Northwest Works on Paper, with 104 works, will be divided among the Tacoma Art Museum, the Whatcom Museum of History and Art, and the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.
In keeping with WAC’s spirit of collaboration, the former members have all agreed to sign a legacy agreement. “It’s a legal document that states that [member museums] have the right of first refusal for loans and that loans will be shared without cost,” Wolf said. The entire redistributed collection will maintain the label of “Gift of the Washington Art Consortium.”
Each museum will also maintain a separate section on their websites, cataloguing the consortium collection. “That alone speaks of the commitment we have to share the legacy and keep it alive,” Wolf said.