UPDATED: The Cleveland Museum's creative funding plan
In a move that's sure to put museum-lovers and benefactors around the country on notice, the Cleveland Museum of Art has requested permission from a court to use funds restricted for the purchase of art to finance its ongoing expansion. [Via Modern Art Notes, originally from a story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer by art critic Steven Litt. UPDATE: Lee Rosenbaum, a major voice on the museum world in the blogosphere, weighs in on the Cleveland situation on her blog, CultureGrrl. Also, Judith H. Dobrzynski, at Real Clear Arts.]
While that might seem like a simple enough request on its face, the move could set a precedent for other American museums seeking to expand their facilities. From the story in the Plain Dealer:
"The museum's request means getting the court to grant approval to "deviate" temporarily from the wills of wealthy donors who stipulated that their endowment bequests and trusts could be used only to buy art."
That means, if the request is approved, that money previously thought to be in the exclusive province of future art acquisitions could be used to fund other museum projects. The Museum, under outgoing director Timothy Rub, has said that it plans only to draw on the endowment's accumulated interest rather than its principle, a move which could conceivably ease legal and ethical concerns about the museum's intentions.
This request, and the eventual decision, will be something to monitor closely. Locally, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery has announced its plans for a major expansion. But with local pockets even shallower than those in Cleveland, the potential for such a project to succeed depends on finding funding from outside the area. The Albright-Knox has given no indication that it would ever consider drawing on its endowment. Quite to the contrary, the museum gave repeated assurances during 2007's controversial deaccession that money from the sales would be used exclusively to buy contemporary art. (One of those deaccessions, a granite statue of the Hindu deity Shiva, at left, now resides at the Cleveland Museum)
But if things go the way of the Cleveland Museum, as they very well may, other museums will no doubt take heed. There's sure to be much more about the situation, and some pretty interesting opinions, on Tyler Green's Modern Art Notes. Stay tuned!