The stated reason for the Barnes Foundation’s controversial move to Philadelphia from the Merion, PA, mansion where founder Albert Barnes had intended his collection always to remain was that this relocation was the most viable, least drastic solution to saving the financially beleaguered institution.
Yesterday’s announcement that Derek Gillman, the Barnes’ executive director and president, would step down, effective Jan. 1, trumpets his fundraising success during his seven-year tenure. The press release states that Gillman oversaw the “campaign for the Barnes’s new $150 million-facility [and] the addition of $50 million to its endowment.”
However, Gillman had told me at the press preview for the new Philly Barnes that the endowment back then (in May 2012) stood at “approximately $60 million [$10 million more than the figure in yesterday’s press release]. We want to go to $100 million.” Only about $30 million, he said then, was actually in hand; the rest of the $60 million consisted of pledges.
When I sought further clarification yesterday on the Barnes’ financial progress (or lack thereof), Jan Rothschild, the foundation’s senior vice president for communications, told me this:
The current amount of endowment in hand is approximately $46 million and the expectation is that the endowment value will be $50 million by Dec. 31. We have pledges totaling another $10 million, so the total value of the endowment is expected to rise to $60 million at the end of the pledge period.
In other words, fundraising for endowment appears to have stalled in the year and a half since the Philly Barnes opened. The $100-million endowment that its officials had always said the new Barnes needed to be financially sustainable still seems to be an uncertain, distant goal. Initially, the Barnes had said it planned to raise $100 million for the building; $100 million for endowment (with a 2009 completion date for the new facility). About $50 million that might otherwise have gone to endowment went instead to fund the capital project, for which the cost increased to $150 million.
On the plus side, Rothschild told me that attendance for the first year was about 336,000 (up from what the press release said was an annual attendance about 60,000 in Merion). And attendance appears to be keeping the same pace this year—about 170,000 visitors in the 6+ months since the end of last May.
Margaret (Peg) Zminda, the Barnes’ executive vice president, CFO and COO, will serve as acting director when Gillman leaves next month to become distinguished visiting professor at Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Philadelphia. A search committee was formed in September, and Phillips Oppenheim, the executive search firm, was engaged. But so far no permanent successor has been announced. Whoever it is had better be adept at restarting the fundraising momentum that appears to have been lost.
As it happens, Judith Dolkart, the Barnes’ chief curator and deputy director, whose acumen I admire, was a 2013 fellow at the Center for Curatorial Leadership and hit the jackpot by scoring a residency in that director-grooming program with Tom Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum.
Might she have directorial aspirations? And was the CCL’s intensive training program sufficient to give her the administrative and financial skills that she would need?