It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

The fate of the Barnes Foundation’s art collection, set to be moved from its founder’s home in Merion, PA to downtown Philadelphia, will be debated this coming Monday, May 21, by a pair of scholars, one who supports the move and one who opposes it.  The debate is sponsored by Friends of the Barnes, which falls decisively in the latter category.  No date has yet been set for the move, though it’s unclear whether that’s because of the Friends’ opposition, objections expressed by other members of the visual arts community (not to mention Julian Bond), or the fact that a new home has yet to be constructed for the collection. 

The original plan to move the Barnes was also a plan to wrest it away from Lincoln University, the historically black college to which the founder had given control in his will.  But Lincoln’s control was diluted (and effectively ended) in 2003, largely removing race from the debate and leaving only–only!–an insoluble dispute about money.  It’s a story pitting donor’s intent (Barnes wanted the collection to stay entirely unchanged and exactly where it was) against contemporary needs–albeit those needs as defined by a single entity (the Pew Charitable Trusts).  The Nonprofiteer envies those for whom this is a simple battle of good and evil; she finds it dauntingly complex. 

Here’s the press release about the debate:

F R I E N D S o f t h e B A R N E S F O U N D A T I O N
P. O. Box 35 Merion Station, PA 19066


May 13, 2007

Contact: Nancy Herman at 610-667-0281 or

First Public Debate about the Future of the Barnes Foundation
to be held at Drexel University Monday, May 21

Two prominent area luminaries will meet Monday, May 21 to debate the future of the Barnes Foundation and the controversial plan to move the art collection from the world-renowned Barnes Foundation in Merion to a site on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

Robert Zaller, professor of history at Drexel University and a member of Friends of the Barnes Foundation, which seeks to preserve an intact Barnes Foundation in Merion, and Gresham Riley, former president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, will lead the debate.  Robert Morscheck, Professor of Art History at Drexel University, will moderate.

The plan to move the art collection was developed by three major foundations: The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Annenberg Foundation, and the Lenfest Foundation. The three organizations funded the legal proceedings in Montgomery County Orphans’ Court in 2004 that resulted in breaking Albert Barnes’ Indenture of Trust and orchestrated the campaign to raise $150 million for the project. In addition to the funding raised by the foundations, a $100 million appropriation for capital spending on the project was passed in the Pennsylvania Senate in 2002, two years before the court decision. When released, state funds for the construction project will have to be matched by the City of Philadelphia.
Zaller and Riley have sparred on the Barnes issue in The Broad Street Review (, a cultural arts Web site founded by journalist Dan Rottenberg, but the Drexel event will be the first time the two have directly faced off in a debate.

The event will run from 6-7:50 p.m. at Drexel University, Stein Auditorium, 111 Nesbitt Hall, at 33rd and Market streets in Philadelphia. Admission is free and the public is urged to attend this important exchange of ideas on the future of the Barnes Foundation. For further information, please call 610-667-0281.


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