JAMESTOWN – The Prendergast Library Board of Trustees has unanimously selected Sotheby’s to sell much of its art collection, despite pleas from several area residents who attended Thursday’s board meeting.
The action by the library board took place following nearly two years of effort by a group of area residents who’ve been working to “save the art” and keep the collection intact and in Jamestown, as intended when much of it was first purchased more than a century ago with money willed to the library from the estate of Mary Prendergast.
The most recent assessed value of the collection is $1.17 million, with the library planning to use proceeds from the auction to place in its endowment and use the interest generated to offset financial challenges in annual budget. It’s estimated such a plan would generate anywhere between $35,000 to $50,000 in additional money each year for the library, depending on how much the art actually sells for.
About two dozen people attended Thursday’s meeting, with ten of the attendees addressing the board at the start of the meeting. All but one spoke in favor of keeping the artwork.
Jamestown resident Pete Miraglia requested to board keep the collection, and work to leverage as both a fundraising and educational component of its programming.
“I appreciate that the library board provided the time for a buyer to step forward to keep the art in the community. However, as you know, a recent legal ruling made it virtually impossible to keep the art in Jamestown if it is sold,” Maraglia said, referring to a Surrogate Court decision announced last month that stated that if the artwork is sold, it can only be done through reputable auction house. “There are other ways to provide the library funds from the artwork. One way would be to lease the art to a group, who would house, maintain and promote it. This community has been bringing to life projects that a few years ago no one else could imagine. This is not the time to start going backwards.”
Another city resident, Timothy Starr, said the board was being shortsighted.
“It seems to me like there are options that haven’t been considered. It seems to me that the math doesn’t work very well,” Starr said. “If the collection is only worth one-plus-however-many million dollars, and if the salaries of the library alone are $700,000, or if [the sale proceeds] are added to the endowment and we get $35-$45,000 a year, why is it that that’s being considered as such a drastic solution that will have so little long-term benefit for us?”
And yet another area resident, Bill Locke, who’s also part of the save the art group, read a statement that was purportedly written by Jesse Marion, a Texas-based businessman. He and his wife Cathy, who is from the Jamestown area, are philanthropists who had offered to purchase the collection for its assessed value in order to keep it in Jamestown. That offer was turned down due to conditions outlined in the ruling by the Surrogate Cout.
“Libraries, newspapers and even books themselves are becoming extinct,” Locke read. “Art, however, can be an important cultural connection to our past and present for thousands of years. Is $30-50,000 a year from increased endowment really worth the destruction of a dream and a treasure? I think not.”
Part of the statement read by Locke also admonished the board for its decision to sell the collection, rather than work with community members to find an alternative solution.
“I suggest that the entire board resign and the library find new leadership with strong personal and financial commitment to the library, the city, and its citizens,” Locke said.
Not all who spoke were against selling the artwork. Jeff Holroyd of Jamestown said the library really has no other option after residents failed to support it during last year’s failed funding initiative referendum.
“Everyone had the chance to come and vote and put it on the tax. I know everyone gets touchy about increased taxes, but it was out there and we wouldn’t be having that meeting today if it had passed last year,” Holroyd said, adding, “This isn’t a museum. The sign outside says its a museum but it’s not. Is there a curator here or downstairs qualified to take care of that art that’s deteriorating on a daily basis?”
Following the statements from the public, the board unanimously approved the Sotheby’s resolution with no discussion, comment, or response to any one who spoke or was in attendance. However, following the meeting, Prendergast Board president Tom Rankin said that he and the board remains sympathetic to the Save the Art supporters.
“I sympathize with the folks that want to keep the collection, I absolutely sympathize with them. I don’t want you to think otherwise,” Rankin said. “I think when those folks asked us to delay once again selling the art collection, the board felt strongly that we’ve waited long enough. We’ve suffered some financial setbacks beyond our control, and we really need to help ourselves at this point so we can keep the doors open.”
Rankin said that the terms of the contract with Sotheby’s is that the library will receive 100 percent of any final bid placed on any artwork that is sold at auction. He said that the media should check with Sotheby’s to get the specific details on how it will make its profit. It’s believed that will happen by assessing buyers fee on anyone who purchases a piece of art at auction.
The artwork will be sent to Sotheby’s in the coming weeks so it can be cleaned and prepared for auction, with the sale likely taking place in the fall.
The only artwork that will remain in possession of the Predengast Library are the pieces that have a direct connection to Jamestown’s and the surrounding area’s history, such as portraits of the Prendergast family.