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The Importance Of Having A Watchdog – UPDATED

The Asheville Art Museum seems to have a watchdog on its tail, probably in a good way — in fact, in a way such that it makes me wonder if, say, the Corcoran Gallery of Art might have survived as it was had it had someone similarly watching its every move.

In Asheville, the watchdog is a man named Ken Michalove, the former mayor and city manager.  He says the museum “is headed for bankruptcy unless it ramps up its own fundraising, sticks to its original goals and stops trying to adjust its game plan and financial reports so as to qualify for city and county money,” according to a recent article in the Asheville Tribune. The museum needs to raise $24 million, a goal originally set in 1996.

AshevilleArtMuseumMichalove’s other main points:

  • Investment income has plummeted: “The art museum lists its 2013 investment income as $789,357, reduced by $768,701 from the previous year. Of this difference, Michalove says, $775,000 was listed on the 2012 Form 990 as “Gross amount of sales other than inventory.” Michalove says he has repeatedly asked what “sales” made up that figure but has received no response from the art museum. Without its inclusion in the grand total, the museum’s investment income would only come to $34,357.
  • In January, 2014, museum executive director Pam Myers made a presentation to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) in order to obtain yet another extension to a $1.5 million grant agreement on which the museum had already defaulted twice. Myers indicated the museum’s number of non-student visitors had more than doubled, from 21,750 to 49,297. That number, divided into the museum’s stated admissions revenues of $71,224 yield an average ticket price of a dollar and forty-four cents, rather than the museum’s $8.00 regular admissions fee. “What’s going on with these numbers?” Michalove asked.
  • Michalove says the museum’s projected income under its present investment strategy will fall short of its goal by $228,000 by the end of fiscal year 2017. In that case, and without a “major influx of cash” from somewhere else, Michalove says, the art museum will be staring down the barrel of bankruptcy; hence his conclusion that the museum must indeed raise “at least” the full $24 million it originally stated as its campaign goal.”

There’s more in the story.

If Michalove’s analysis is correct, there are even more questions than are explicitly asked in the article. For example, is the museum invading its endowment, or why else would investment income drop so much in an up market? And those other “gross sales” certainly do require an explanation — sales of what?

If nothing else, Michalove is showing museum management and trustees that the museum has to be responsible and responsive.

UPDATE: For another view, that from the museum, which says its finances are fine, go here: Tourism board backs Asheville Art Museum renovation

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Asheville Art Museum 


  1. David L'eglise says:

    The blog about the Asheville Art Museum which is from the Asheville
    Tribune is full of errors. The Asheville Tribune is a far right wing
    opinion based journal. The author has an ax to grind is not objective.
    There are lots of articles at the Asheville Citizen Times that provide
    a far more balanced and mainstream to this story. The real story is
    that there is no story. The former mayor has no credibility and is
    harming the various entities he is claiming to protect. The museum is
    fiscally sound, fully accredited, and has been numerous third party
    audits which substantiate that fact. The original article is harmful
    at the least and possibly an act of libel.

  2. Bob Benites says:

    I was told of this particular post by a friend and long time reader of
    your blog. I have been a reader too and appreciated your
    perspective on several topics. I preface what I am about to say that I
    am a member and supporter of the Asheville Art Museum. As an Asheville
    resident, I have been both horrified and mildly amused by former Mayor
    Michaelove’s crazy campaign. Over the past months of following his
    odd crusade, I have honestly questioned his grip on reality.

    That said, I was shocked when I read your commentary on our local
    museum based on the use of a single source: The Asheville Tribune. I
    was surprised you have given so much credit to the rantings of our former
    Mayor, going so far as point out to another respondent to your post
    that he has “some credibility” because he was a “former mayor.” I am
    disappointed to hear you say that. Am I to suppose then you also
    afford credibility to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on dealing with substance
    abuse? Sorry, perhaps I’m comparing apples to oranges, but the
    Asheville Tribune is hardly fit to line my garbage can. Moreover I was
    disappointed to not see any mention of your checking references of the
    museum in our major local newspaper the Asheville Citizen Times, or
    information published on the museum’s website to verify the claims
    made in the Tribune.

    Considering the state of the economy and decreasing support of the
    Arts in general I have been continually amazed at the extraordinary
    quality of the offerings at our Museum and this makes Michaelove’s
    rants all the more perplexing and annoying.

    I invite you to visit our Museum, do some better research and I’m sure
    you will come to agree with saner heads in Asheville, that Michaelove
    is a first class nut-job.

    • Well, I’m being a former mayor is not a credential to you. I can only repeat that, while perhaps he is not the best watchdog, my post was about the value of having a watchdog, not about the finances of the Asheville museum. It was an example. Even when gadflies are wrong, so long as they have no power, they can serve a function. Far too many museums have trustees who do not pay enough attention to their duties until it is too late.

      As for you comments about my checking things, I have said repeatedly that the standards of blogging (for free) are different from those of an actual publication for which I do paid work. I do not have time to report out most blog items and most of them are commentaries.

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