What will happen to the art of the Fort Worth Central Library after the building is sold?
See full Fort Worth Star-Telegram article by Rick Mauch here.
The future of some art owned by the Fort Worth Public Library Foundation is in question, and to some folks that’s not a pretty picture.
With the city’s recent decision to sell the downtown Central Library to the national firm of Dart Interests LLC for $18 million, the premises will be vacated after the deal becomes official.
Where much of the art that was on the walls of the library will go is up in the air. The art owned by the city will be redistributed to other library branches and various locations, city officials say, but what will happen to the Foundation-owned art is still being decided, along with relocation of the Foundation’s offices housed in the Central Library.
“At some point in the future, we will evaluate on a case-by-case basis the best option for each piece,” Foundation CEO and President Andrea Ash said.
Ash said some of those options include hanging art in the Foundation office, displaying it at other libraries, or selling, donating, or putting on loan to other organizations.
However, Ash also said the selling of some of the Foundation’s pieces of art has nothing to do with the city’s decision to sell and was being discussed long before the library sold.
“The Foundation board has been discussing for over six years the possibility of selling some of the art previously donated to benefit the organization’s mission,” Ash said. “The responsibility of the board is to discern the most fiscally responsible ways to sustain the organization so that it may continue to support the library and its community programs long-term.”
The Foundation partnered with Heritage Auctions in Dallas and an auction was held in October. Another is scheduled for the spring, Ash said.
PRIVATE HANDS NOT POPULAR CHOICE
As for the relocation of the Foundation, wherever it winds up going, it will likely be in smaller quarters, with nowhere to store — much less display — an art collection, according to Scott Barker, a local cultural historian who has worked with the Foundation over the years.
“Most of the collection was put in temporary storage some time ago in response to the city’s decision to clear the building of its contents,” Barker said. “Given the Foundation’s limited resources and uncertain future, the Foundation’s board decided that the art would be better cared for in private hands.”
Ash said the pieces for auction have already been decided and what is hanging in the library until the transition is complete will not be sold. She said she and the Foundation board consulted with the donors of the pieces that went to auction and got their approval.
”The board and I did not enter these decisions lightly. They support our efforts to use the proceeds to benefit the Foundation’s mission to raise private funds that support both the Foundation’s Launchpad College Application Mentoring program and the library,” she said.
LaunchPad supports area high school students by providing free professional assistance and counseling on the college application process. This includes technical help with writing college essays and scholarship applications, as well as guidance on college readiness and selection.
“The board and I are comfortable with the steps we are taking to create a long-term sustainable Foundation,” Ash said. “Any and all proceeds generated from the art is restricted to building a true endowment for the Foundation’s operations.”
She added that when the Foundation moves to a new location from the downtown library, with a site yet to be decided, the art that has not been relocated will continue to remain in the Foundation’s possession.
None of the other Fort Worth Library locations have Foundation art displayed. The Foundation owns about 65 pieces of art, about 10 of which were created by four members of the legendary Fort Worth Circle artists, Ash said.
Steve Cooke, the city of Fort Worth property management director, said the city has negotiated up to a 24-month lease to remain in the building if necessary, though he added that is not likely to happen.
“We hope to get out way sooner than that to protect us from having to pay rent. We would most likely get out in several months to accomplish this goal,” he said. “However, this is all still fluid at this time until we close. Closing makes all of this official and enforceable.”
FORT WORTH CIRCLE
The Fort Worth Circle was a progressive art colony that was active during the 1940s and much of the 1950s, formed around younger artists. Most were native Texans under 30 who embraced themes not traditionally seen in Texas art up to that time.
Susan Pritchett, former longtime director of Tarrant County archives, had a relative who was a part of the Fort Worth Circle.
Pritchett said her aunt Lia Cuilty (1908-1978) was part of the group.
“She painted, but etching became her special media by the 1940s,” she recalled.
Barker is widely recognized as one of the premier authorities on the Fort Worth Circle.
He said Fort Worth Circle artists represented in the Foundation’s collection are Marjorie Johnson Lee, Blanche McVeigh, Emily Guthrie Smith, and Charles T. Williams.
Pritchett suggested the Fort Worth Public Library system could spread Fort Worth Circle art to other branch libraries.
”The Central Library was always the core and leader for exhibiting art in the city beginning with the Carnegie (around the turn of the 20th Century). As the art museums developed here in the 1950s, the library lost its cachet of displaying art. It could regain that role of showing local contemporary artists and include their collection of oldies,” she said.
Fort Worth Library Director Manya Shorr said none of the artwork owned by the city is from the Fort Worth Circle. Ash said donating some Foundation pieces to the city is a possibility, and Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke said that idea is welcome.
“The Fort Worth Public Library Foundation is a strong city partner. We are grateful to them for choosing to display portions of their art collection to enhance our public spaces — which is just one of the many, many ways the Foundation collaborates with us,” Cooke said.
“With respect to their independent business decisions, we look forward to continued collaboration with the Foundation to accommodate the display of any pieces they own, or work with them to fulfill their board’s vision for their items.”
ANGRY AT THE CITY
Pritchett said the city’s decision has forced the Foundation into its current situation.
”I’m 80, a lifelong Fort Worth resident, and love this city so much, but there is almost nothing that surprises me anymore at how it is exchanging its pioneer grit spirit for development and dollars,” she said. “The city wouldn’t see beauty if it was staring at them ... rolling hills, trees, woods, creeks ... just cover it up as quick as they can with concrete, buildings that look like big blocks, apartments, and tract houses. Sad, at least to me.”
Like Pritchett, Barker cast blame on the scenario on city officials.
”To me, it looks like a clear signal that someone wants out of the business of running libraries,” he said.
Cooke, the city manager, issued his response to the accusations: “For multiple years, the city of Fort Worth staff publicly discussed the possible sale of the downtown library and the multiple decisions that would be associated with such an action — including the display of art. Throughout, I believe the staff involved have been diligent and thoughtful in our approach, including considering art relocation. We are actively making plans to relocate those assets that have been donated directly to the library and city.
“As an organization, we remain supportive of the arts. We spend more than a million dollars a year on public art, and our various departments collaborate on arts programming and education.”
The Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization founded in 1993. Its original mission in the early 1990s was raising money to fund numerous finish-out projects at the Central Library following expansion of the building. The original library was underground and would often leak badly when it rained, so a street-level shell structure was built in the early 1990s to solve this problem, which it did, but it also created a massive amount of new interior space that had to be finished out, so the Foundation was started to help with those costs.
In 2001 and the Foundation’s finish-out was a public art gallery on the library’s ground floor. The presence of the art gallery mirrored Fort Worth’s earlier downtown libraries, both of which were equipped with public art galleries.
At this point, Betsy Pepper, the founder and executive director of the Foundation, decided to begin actively collecting local art in hopes of creating a significant collection that the Foundation could offer for public viewing. Her decision was greatly influenced by the Fort Worth Public Library’s long history of promoting a public awareness of the visual arts.
Barker noted that now, however, because of the pressure to downsize, the collection that was built by the Foundation is in jeopardy — at least part of it. He added that most people who donated art did so with the expectation that their pieces would remain at the library.
”My own feeling is that the foundation may have the legal right to sell assets, but its action sends a message to donors that if they give property to any nonprofit, there should be no expectation the donation will be used for the intended purpose for more than a short time,” Barker said.
“So why give?”
Ash said any donation is made and accepted with the understanding that it could later be sold.
“Business decisions made by our organization related to the sale of assets gifted to the Foundation always adhere to the contracted terms of any donation, including the sale of donated property,” she said. “These Foundation decisions are not related to the city of Fort Worth’s planned sale of the downtown Central Library property.”
Local art collector Morris Matson is a former co-chair of the archives committee on the Foundation board. Like Barker, he was actively engaged in Fort Worth Circle art, and he sought individuals to donate artwork to the Foundation.
Whatever the eventual outcome, he hopes the public can still see as much of the Foundation’s art as possible.
”There’s a very rich heritage of art in Fort Worth,” Matson said. “We think it’s short-sighted what is happening now. It’s part of our history and it’s going to be sold, and we’re incensed about it.
”Surely there’s enough public space in Fort Worth for this art so it doesn’t have to go into private homes and never be seen by the public again.”
Location Mentioned: Central Library