NEW YORK—Fisk University, in Nashville, Tenn., has filed yet another motion in its long-running battle with the state’s attorney general over whether it should be allowed to leverage its art collection in order to raise cash, which officials say is desperately needed to keep the school afloat.
Fisk officials want to move forward on an agreement reached almost five years ago, under which it would sell a 50 percent ownership interest in its Alfred Stieglitz Collection to the recently opened Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., which was founded by Walmart heiress Alice Walton.
The museum would pay the university $30 million for a 50 percent stake in all 101 artworks in the collection. Under this sharing arrangement, Crystal Bridges would keep the collection for two years and return it for two years to ensure that Fisk students would be able to enjoy these artworks during at least two of their four years at the university.
The school’s latest motion, filed Feb. 14, is a response to a late January filing by state attorney general Robert Cooper, who opposes the agreement on the grounds that it would violate the original intent of the donor, painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who gave the gift to the school in 1949 in memory of her late husband. O’Keeffe imposed certain conditions on the gift, namely that the works be kept together and never loaned or sold.
In its filing, Fisk says the Crystal Bridges agreement “is the only option that allows O’Keeffe’s intent to be realized, by keeping Fisk alive to display the Collection….In considering O’Keeffe’s intent that Fisk display the collection, what is at stake here is the difference between half of the time and never again.”
The university has long argued that it should be able to pursue the agreement under terms of cy pres, a “doctrine that is applied when compliance is impracticable,” according to its filing.
The school also included a detailed summary of the ways in which the arrangement “will retain the O’Keeffe conditions, but includes a recognition that some of O’Keeffe’s conditions have become seriously outdated and, in fact, in some cases will result in permanent damage to the art.”
In his Jan. 30 filing (ANL, 2/7/12), Cooper sought permission to appeal a ruling handed down in appellate court late last year that approved the deal.