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VOL. 35 | NO. 25 | Friday, June 24, 2011




Appeals court hears arguments over Fisk art sale

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NASHVILLE (AP) — The state Court of Appeals is considering whether to allow Fisk University to sell a 50 percent share in its modern art collection to keep the school afloat.

The Davidson County Chancery Court agreed last year to allow a sharing agreement that would display the art part-time at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark. But the order stipulated that $20 million of the $30 million in proceeds should go to an endowment for the 101-piece Stieglitz Collection, donated to the school by the late painter Georgia O'Keeffe.

In the Appeals Court on Tuesday, Fisk attorney John Branham argued the lower court exceeded its authority by restricting the use of a majority of the money.

But the state Attorney General asked the court to deny the sale entirely, arguing that it would frustrate O'Keeffe's intent in donating the collection to the school.

One of the conditions of the donation was that Fisk not sell the collection, which is why the historically black university needs the court's permission to enter into contract with Crystal Bridges.

The Chancery Court has ruled that Fisk's precarious financial condition does not allow it comply with all the original conditions of O'Keeffe's bequest, so Fisk has a right to seek relief from those conditions. But the law requires the court to approve an alternative that closely approximates the original intent of the donor.

Fisk attorney John Branham argued on Tuesday that the Crystal Bridges agreement does that by allowing the artwork to be properly cared for, keeping it at Fisk part-time, and providing the school with a dose of cash that officials hope to use as seed money for a major fundraising campaign.

But Judge Frank Clement said the law "does not allow courts to make decisions to support worthy charitable agendas (in this case saving Fisk). Our duty is to make sure the proposed modification is as close to the original intent as possible."

The lower court found that O'Keefe deliberately selected Fisk for the artwork, so allowing the school to go bankrupt would not serve O'Keeffe's purpose.

Branham seized on this, also arguing that two $50,000 donations to Fisk showed O'Keeffe was interested in the school's financial wellbeing.

Branham also commented that prominent Nashville residents have had difficulty raising money to support the collection, suggesting that the reason could be because it is "ugly."

Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter argued that helping Fisk financially was never part of O'Keeffe's intent.

Instead, the attorney general has proposed that Fisk keep full control of the collection and use a fund that alumna Carol Creswell-Betsch has agreed to establish to pay the display and maintenance costs.

Allowing a court to ignore donor intent in order to promote a worthy charitable agenda is a bad idea in the long run because it will discourage future charitable giving, Kleinfelter said.

She argued that earlier testimony showed that publicity from the 6-year-old case already is doing just that.

And she said there is no guarantee that providing Fisk with $10 million or even $30 million from the sale of a half interest in the artwork is enough to keep the school from closing. Fisk president Hazel O'Leary has testified the school needs around $150 million to be on a stable financial footing.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 0 0
MORTGAGES 0 0 0
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 0 0
BUILDING PERMITS 0 0 0
BANKRUPTCIES 0 0 0
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 0 0
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0