Fisk to appeal court ruling on Stieglitz art collection

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 6:00pm
Staff reports

Fisk University announced Wednesday that it will appeal a Davidson County Chancery Court ruling regarding the school’s famed Stieglitz art collection.

In a release, university officials said Fisk has filed a notice with the court, noting that Fisk will appeal the Nov. 3 chancery court ruling that Fisk was entitled to enter into the arrangement under which Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas would acquire an undivided 50 percent interest in the Stieglitz collection for $30 million.

The court ruled that Fisk could spend only $10 million of the $30 million at its discretion. The court required that the remaining $20 million be placed in an independent endowment fund. Under the terms of the endowment, Fisk would be allowed to use approximately $1 million income from the endowment to support the display, preservation and art education regarding the Stieglitz collection.

“This restriction effectively confiscates proceeds from the approved sharing agreement and places Fisk in a more risky position than before,” Fisk President Hazel R. O’Leary said in the release. “During the trial, Fisk presented evidence that the annual direct cost to maintain the art gallery where the collection is housed is approximately $130,000. 

“The court has directed that Fisk dedicate approximately $1 million of income earned annually from the $20 million endowment for the support of the collection exclusively,” O’Leary added. “It is inconceivable to decide that $870,000 should be used annually to care for and educate the public about the collection. As a result, any excess earnings not required for those purposes are unavailable to the university for educational purposes, to attract high-quality scholars and researchers to the faculty, to provide scholarships to its talented and underserved students, or to maintain the many historic buildings which require constant repairs on our campus.”

Fisk officials said it has always been the university’s intent to set aside an adequate amount of the proceeds for the proper display, maintenance and conservation of the art.  In 2008, Fisk spent approximately $1 million to install security, fire prevention, lighting and climate control in the Van Vechten Gallery, which houses the collection. Under the sharing agreement, such costs would be shared by Fisk and the Crystal Bridges Museum.

Alice Walton, the major donor to the museum, has contractually agreed with Fisk to establish a $1 million endowment to be used for the same purpose when the sharing agreement is executed.