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AG Defeat: Judge Nixes Frist/Fisk, Smiles on Crystal Bridges

FiskVigil1.jpg
Fisk’s Monday prayer vigil for Alice Walton’s millions

In a 31-page Memorandum and Order issued late yesterday afternoon, Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle handed a complete defeat to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, who had proposed a temporary arrangement to keep Fisk University’s Stieglitz Collection full-time in Nashville, rather than half-time in Bentonville, AR, as is being sought by the university.

The AG’s plan had been decried in a NewsChannel 5 interview by Fisk President Hazel O’Leary as “morally reprehensible.” On Monday evening, the university held a prayer vigil at its Memorial Chapel to rally opposition against the plan that would temporarily relocate the art to Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts, without providing the $30-million windfall that would accrue to Fisk from its collection-sharing deal with Alice Walton‘s planned Crystal Bridges Museum.

The AG, for his part, issued a statement yesterday, prior to Chancellor Lyle’s ruling, which criticized Fisk for “seeking to divide the community with rhetoric and name calling.”

Cooper added:

The only plan that would take this important collection away from Fisk
University, its students, and the community is the one Fisk has
proposed. In return for a bargain-basement price, Fisk would
immediately hand over control of the art to a Delaware corporation for
display in Arkansas and risk loss of the entire collection permanently.

But Lyle regards the AG’s “temporary fix” (as she called it) as “insufficient”:

It appears that there is no long-term solution to keep the Collection in Nashville full-time.

To my mind, the flaw in the court’s logic is that the AG’s plan WOULD keep the collection in Nashville full-time. The only thing temporary about the arrangement would be the artworks’ sojourn at the Frist, which would display and maintain the collection until Fisk could resume custodianship. Fisk argues that it can, in fact, afford the cost of maintaining the art, but that it will cease to exist if it can’t collect the $30-million from selling a half-share in the collection (which would contravene the written no-sale stipulation set forth by its donor, Georgia O’Keeffe).

Chancellor Lyle ruled:

It would not be in keeping…with the donor’s intent to keep the Collection in Nashville at the cost of sacrificing the existence of Fisk University.

The judge has ordered Fisk to come up with a modified deal with Crystal Bridges that would “eliminate potential divestment of a Nashville connection to the Collection.” For example, under the current agreement, Crystal Bridges could lend money to Fisk to cover the university’s share of collection-related expenses, but such loans would be “secured by a security interest in [Fisk’s] undivided interest in the Collection,” which could result in forfeiture of that interest to Crystal Bridges if the loan were not repaid.

Chancellor Lyle gave a detailed road map to Fisk’s lawyers, drafting her own suggested wording for an agreement upon which she would look favorably.

Fisk’s deadline for filing a modified agreement with Davidson County Chancery Court is Oct. 8. The AG’s deadline for responding to Fisk’s filing is Oct. 22. There has been no official comment at this writing by either side on yesterday’s court order. Appealing to a higher court is an eventual option.

an ArtsJournal blog