Monday, September 13, 2010

Fisk Prayer Vigil Tonight Protests Attorney General's 'Attempt to Steal This Art'

Posted By on Mon, Sep 13, 2010 at 4:39 PM

In the latest skirmish in the battle over Fisk University's Alfred Stieglitz Collection — which took a legal twist last week when Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper proposed placing the collection under the temporary auspices (not ownership) of the Tennessee Arts Commission and the Frist Center — Fisk students will hold a prayer vigil 6 p.m. this evening in Fisk Memorial Chapel. The vigil protests the proposal, which organizers call an "outrageous theft of private property from a fully-operational institution."

Press release from Fisk University after the jump. Also, in case you missed last week's broadcast premiere of the NPT documentary The Gift: The Alfred Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University — which concerns the art, not the controversy — it will be shown again next Monday, Sept, 20, on NPT-Channel 8 at 9:30 p.m.

Fisk University Students Host Prayer Vigil in Opposition to Attorney General’s Proposed Taking of Fisk’s Stieglitz Collection

Urge Metropolitan Development Housing Agency (MDHA) to Vote Against Expansion of the Rechter Room as a “permanent” exhibition space for the collection.

Fisk University students will host a vigil at 6p.m. today in Fisk Memorial Chapel in opposition to Attorney General Cooper’s proposed taking of the Stieglitz Collection of Modern Art from the University.

The vigil will be led by alumni leaders and will include performances by the University Choir.

The board of the MDHA is scheduled to vote on Tuesday September 14th on a measure that would expand an exhibition room in Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts for the purpose of permanently housing and maintaining Fisk’s collection. The vote is a critical element of Attorney General Bob Cooper’s proposal filed with Davidson County Chancery Court.

The Attorney General proposes that MDHA pay $250,000 to make changes at the Frist Center necessary to house the art.

Fisk is opposed to the Attorney General’s proposal on the basis that it would take private property from a functioning private entity and redistribute it. Between 2007 and 2010, Fisk spent nearly $1.0 million to renovate the Van Vechten Gallery into a state-of-the-art facility for the display of the Collection.

The University has called on Nashville to reject this outrageous theft of private property from a fully-operational institution.

Fisk President Hazel R. O’Leary has stated:

“This proposal was developed without an invitation to or participation by Fisk from the Attorney General, the Frist Center, MDHA, or the Tennessee Arts Commission. This so-called partnership between the FristCenter, 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.”

In a letter to the MDHA Board, Fisk University Chairman Robert W. Norton stated:

“The Attorney General’s proposal entirely misses the point. Fisk does not need the $138,000 or so it takes each year to exhibit the art. It has and will continue to allocate funds for that purpose. Its problem is the $1.0-$2.0 million shortfall each year in its operations. That cannot go on, and without the cash infusion, Fisk will eventually close. When it closes, it will then be unable to care for the collection, but not until then. Its purpose in proposing the sharing arrangement is to prevent its closure by rebuilding its endowment.

The Attorney General’s proposal will take the art from Fisk and leave Fisk to its fate of withering on the vine and dying. The Attorney General says that the move to the Frist Center is temporary, just until “Fisk gets its house in order.” In the meantime, the Frist Center would have absolute control of the collection. The plan provides that Fisk can only get the art back if approved by the court. The reality is that once the art goes to the Frist Center (for which Fisk will receive nothing), Fisk will be unable to complete the sharing arrangement. Without the $30 million, Fisk will close. When it closes, the Attorney General will undoubtedly ask that the art remain at the Frist Center permanently. For a few hundred thousand dollars, mostly funded from taxpayer dollars by governmental agencies, the Frist Center will acquire an art collection worth at least $74 million. Fisk has called this action a theft, and that is an entirely appropriate characterization.

Because MDHA owns the Frist Center facility and you are proposed by the Attorney General to give $250,000 to the Frist Center as part of the transfer, the Attorney General’s plan cannot go forward without your approval.

Fisk University objects to MDHA’s secret negotiations with the State which resulted in the proposed confiscation of Fisk University’s Stieglitz Collection, its most valuable asset, for the exclusive benefit of a private party.”

The vigil is open to the public and the University encourages the Nashville community to attend.

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