Museums acquire and protect art and display masterpieces to be admired by the public, but the Delaware Art Museum board has decided to sell up to four works from its 12,500-piece collection to raise $30 million to pay off debt from a facilities expansion.
The museum's new CEO, Mike Miller informed that for around five years, the board has been struggling to repay the $19.8 million construction debt. Last year, the bank demanded full repayment which made the leaders to restructure the debt, partner with another arts institution, change the museum's operating model and persuade influential donors to rescue the institution.
When all the attempts failed, 16 members of the 19-member board voted for selling four works from the museumís collection. The board included board vice president Roberts Brokaw III, the great-grandson of the famous illustrator Howard Pyle. Though out of the country, the board chairman Gerret Copeland, whose du Pont great-grandmother helped to establish the museum, supported the decision. Two other board members, Joshua Twilley and Paula Malone, were not present.
The $32.5 million expansion in 2005 has led the board to take the recent actions. Though this three-year project doubled the size of the Kentmere Parkway building, it was also adversely affected with $8 million in cost overruns and delays. The museum settled a lawsuit against its Boston architect and engineer. In order to help, donors rushed and Copeland and his wife, Tatiana even pledged $3 million. Anthony Fusco, Wilmington real estate investor donated around $1.8 million in memory of his late wife. The state offered $850,000. After the construction project ended, the bank threatened the museum to withdraw its letter of credit. Though the museum ended up paying $25,000 in penalties, but it remained open.
Miller said at least three of the four works that could be sold have been put on display and the leaders have said to sell few works, purchased with its funds, to reach their $30 million goal. Museum leaders have also decided not to sell works that have been acquired as a gift or bequest.
The Delaware Art Museum's action has acquired national attention. The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), North America's leading professional organization for art museums, condemned the First State museum for equating art to a fungible asset, underestimating its sincerity towards visitors, donors and the broader arts community.