One important point of clarification. This was a "done deal" by the time I came to town, and by the time Mayor Nutter took office, so I cannot speak with any knowledge about things that took place before my arrival. What I can share are my reactions to the movie, and my involvement in this debate for the past 18 months.
First, as has been widely reported, the movie is distinctly one-sided. Because it was clear that the filmmakers and producer had a point of view that opposed the move, all the leading players on the other side of the issue - with the exception of Governor Rendell - refused to participate. Nobody viewing the movie should be under the illusion that they are getting a balanced representation of the issues and facts.
A few points to note, responding to some of the points made in the film and related articles and blogs:
- If Dr. Barnes's commitment was to education and the use of the collection to educate people about art - especially the underserved - isn't there a great value to being located in a facility that is much more easily accessible to exactly those people the institution was intended to serve? The current Merion location is in a wealthy community and difficult to access by public transportation. I don't think it is a coincidence that I don't believe a single teacher or student interviewed in the film is a person of color - ironic given Barnes' relationship to Lincoln, a historically Black college. and the prominence of Julian Bond and Richard Glanton as interview subjects in the movie.
- If Dr. Barnes was committed to the artworks being exhibited in precise orientation to one another, in rooms of specific dimensions, that desire is fulfilled by the new building which maintains the exact same arrangement of art in rooms of the same dimension, with windows and doors in exactly the same locations, and even with view through the windows onto a bucolic landscape being replicated. The prohibition on lending work or removing it other than for conservation, will also be maintained.
- Because the intimate dimensions of the rooms will be preserved, there will still need to be limitations on the volume of visitors that can be accommodated per hour, but because the new building will be open many more hours than the Merion site, and because the new temporary exhibition spaces will spread people out through a larger complex, many more people will be able to access the Barnes collection than are now able to.
- The new building will create gallery space for temporary exhibitions, which the current building lacks. As Barnes was an avid collector of what was THEN contemporary art, who knows what work he would have continued to collect had he not died so suddenly? How might the work on display changed had he lived another twenty years? Temporary exhibition space will allow for fascinating curatorial exploration of the Barnes collection, mounting of exhibits that might illuminate the context of the man, the art and the times, exhibition of contemporary art that might put help us view the collection in light of artists who are the "Cezannes of today" as the PMA's Cezanne and beyond show did so brilliantly.
- The current building and gardens will be maintained as part of the The Barnes Foundation and will be accessible as a horticultural and study center.
- There is also information disseminated that seems to imply the City is investing significant funding into the new building. In fact the City is putting no capital money into the project, and has made no commitments to providing operating funding. Once it is operating in the City, the Barnes can apply to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund like any other cultural group. All the City did was make the land available. Trying to place a value on the land were it sold for commercial development is inappropriate, as given the prominence of this site on the Parkway the site would ONLY have been utilized for public benefit.
- Yes, the Barnes may need to increase the fundraising needed to program and operate the new facility, and one could argue this does add an additional stress on the funding environment in the arts sector in the City. On the other hand, I do believe a rising tide raises all ships, and the excitement of the new Barnes on the Parkway, I believe will attract more donors to the marketplace, and encourage them to increase their philanthropy rather than dividing up a static pie more thinly.
Isn't it time to come together and figure out how the legacy of this quirky, ecccentric, brilliant collector, Dr, Albert Barnes, can best be honored and celebrated in the context of the Barnes on the Parkway?