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Fisk to Attorney General: Let’s Go to the Court of Appeals!

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I guess it just had to happen.

While I was focused on Washington, this slipped in yesterday from Nashville:

Fisk University announced today that it has filed a notice with the Davidson County Chancery Court that it will appeal the ruling of the Court concerning Fisk’s request to enter into a sharing arrangement with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas for Fisk’s Stieglitz Art Collection.

In her statement on the planned appeal, posted on the university’s website, Fisk President Hazel O’Leary decried the stipulation in Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle‘s ruling that the financially struggling university could accept Crystal Bridges Museum’s $30-million offer for a half-share in Fisk’s Stieglitz Collection only if the university relinquished two-thirds of that “to endow a Nashville connection for the collection.”

O’Leary argued:

This restriction effectively confiscates proceeds from the approved sharing agreement and places Fisk in a more risky position than before.

In an e-mail to me last night, a spokesperson for Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. signaled that he’s more than ready to do battle once again:

We welcome the opportunity to urge the Court of Appeals to fashion a solution, such as the Pearl Creswell Fund, that will fulfill the donor’s intent and keep the Stieglitz Collection in Nashville and available to Fisk students full-time. We will ask the Court of Appeals to prohibit the sale and adopt one of the alternatives provided by our office.

The Court of Appeals could overturn Chancellor Lyle, as it did once before. Here’s what C. Michael Norton, one of Fisk’s lawyers on this case, had to say in response to my query about whether the higher court could prohibit any sale of a half-share in the collection:

That is a risk if the Attorney General files a cross-appeal asking the
court to invalidate the sale. We expect him to file such a
cross-appeal. We expected him to file an appeal even if Fisk did not,
so Fisk does not take on any greater risk by appealing.

After the last decision came down, I asked Crystal Bridges, now scheduled to open next Nov. 11, a few questions:

—In light of the Association of Art Museum Director’s statements regarding the Fisk/Stieglitz case, can you tell me whether there is any thought on the part of Crystal Bridges about changing or terminating the collection-sharing arrangement?

—Is Crystal Bridges in discussions with AAMD regarding this matter, and, if so, what is the nature of those discussions?

—Have Fisk’s legal costs in this matter been paid by Crystal Bridges, Alice Walton (founder of the museum), or a Walton-connected entity?

Here is the answer that was conveyed to me by museum spokesperson Virginia Germann:

Our position is not to comment on the Alfred Stieglitz Collection.

I also had asked AAMD’s executive director, Janet Landay, whether the association had contacted not only Fisk (over which it has little leverage) but also Crystal Bridges (over which is has much) to attempt to dissuade the Alice Walton-founded museum from deploying its vast resources to encourage another institution to both violate donor intent and monetize its artistic assets. I also asked for any information she could provide about the nature of those contacts.

Here’s Landay’s reply, sent to me on Nov. 9:

AAMD has contacted Fisk and Crystal Bridges regarding the collection given to the University by Georgia O’Keeffe.

Apparently those “contacts” have done nothing to alter Crystal Bridges’ resolve. Perhaps AAMD should now publicly comment on what action, if any, it plans to take against an AAMD wannabe whose museum has encouraged an educational institution to exploit its art collection, in the words of AAMD’s admonitory letter to the university, “as a fungible asset and using collections to pay for daily expenses.”

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