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Court Opinion Sought to Permit Maier Museum Art Sales

RandHopper.jpg
Edward Hopper, “Mrs. Scott’s House,” 1932,
26″ by 50½” Maier Museum, Louise Jordan Smith Fund

Ginger Worden, outgoing interim president of financially strapped Randolph College (formerly Randolph-Macon Woman’s College), Lynchburg, VA, announced yesterday in her final letter to faculty, staff, alumnae and trustees that the institution was filing a “request for a court opinion now” to permit it to sell works from its Maier Museum, or, preferably, to “share ownership of a select number of our top paintings as partners with another institution, preferably in Virginia.” She noted that “by many valuations, the art collection is more valuable than the College’s endowment.”
The college’s request was filed in State Circuit Court yesterday, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.
Worden further stated:
We are actively working toward a sharing agreement involving some of our art that would include internships and educational enhancements for all involved. As is true in most negotiations, there are days of optimism and others where the goal seems extremely elusive.
I can think of one very wealthy non-Virginia institution that might be interested.
No word on this from the college’s new president, John Klein, but one must assume that this letter could not have gone out without his approval. We already know that we probably can’t rely on Virginia’s attorney general to protect the terms of the bequest of Louise Jordan Smith, whose instructions to use her funds to purchase art for a “permanent” collection (including the Hopper, above) would be circumvented through a favorable court response to the college’s request.
The “About Randolph” page on the college’s website tells us a little something about its priorities:
At Randolph, we play lots of sports (Go WildCats!), sign up for way too many cool clubs, and love exploring the funky hangouts of our hometown.
Maybe the Maier just needs to get more funky.
The coverage of this new development by Christa Desrets of the Lynchburg News & Advance is here.
Click the link below to read in full the passages from Worden’s letter that relate to the fate of the college’s art.


The following is excerpted from today’s letter to Randolph College’s faculty, staff, alumnae and trustees from its departing interim president, Ginger Worden:
In response to receiving a financial warning from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, we have taken hard steps with our budgeting that included the elimination of personnel and stringent discipline in every aspect of the College’s expenditures.
While all of these steps are helping to secure the College financially, we cannot get our endowment spending rate in the short term into the range considered prudent under generally accepted standards without a large increase in our endowment. There has been much discussion over the past several years of steps that we might take to enhance the College’s endowment….
The art is, of course, an issue of great concern. By many valuations, the art collection is more valuable than the College’s endowment. In carrying out their fiduciary duty, trustees must determine that the College is deploying all the assets available to it in a fashion that will best enable the College to fulfill its mission of educating students in the liberal arts and sciences.
We are fortunate to have trustees who understand both the aesthetic value of the art and its monetary worth. The large majority of our trustees are alumnae, many of whom experienced the art when it was still hung on the walls of our campus. Their passionate attachment to the art led them to construct an extremely thoughtful process for making any decision about its future. We have had very helpful meetings with College art faculty and museum personnel. We have consulted with professionals at other highly regarded museums. In addition, trustees formed a committee of R-MWC alumnae who are active professionals in the art world, and they have been meeting with a subcommittee of trustees both in person and over conference calls since last December.
The most exciting concept that emerged from these many deliberations is sharing our art with another, compatible institution. The goal would be to share ownership of a select number of our top paintings as partners with another institution, preferably in Virginia. To that end, we have been seeking the advice of our College and alumnae professionals and other museum directors with whom they have made contact. We are actively working toward a sharing agreement involving some of our art that would include internships and educational enhancements for all involved. As is true in most negotiations, there are days of optimism and others where the goal seems extremely elusive. So, I remain enthusiastic about this possibility but need to remind myself and all of us that if we are not successful in bringing about such a sharing arrangement, our trustees will have to consider the sale of a small number of our treasured pieces of art.
Some of the College’s art was purchased with funds from a bequest by Louise Jordan Smith, who instructed that the fund be used to form a permanent art collection for the College. Any sharing arrangement would likely include some works of art that were purchased with monies from the LJS fund. If we were to share those pieces with a partner or if we were to sell any of those pieces, we would need a court determination that such a transaction is permissible under the terms of her will or that the court would permit a change in those terms. We are advised that it could take some time to gain a court opinion and that, in order for us to complete a transaction in time for our review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in December, we must file the request for a court opinion now, even before we are certain of our plans.
This legal action is one more step in a long, thoughtful process that began many months ago. As we work toward a solution, this is a legal step we must perform. This does not mean we have made a decision. We have not.

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