JAMESTOWN – The James Prendergast Library will hold off on auctioning any of its artwork until after a public input session is held to identify other possible alternatives.
That was the decision made Thursday afternoon by the board of trustees during its regular board meeting and after a number of residents attended the meeting to speak out against selling the art collection.
According to Prendergast Board President Tom Rankin, the latest numbers show the library is facing $65,000 operating deficit for this year and a $180,000 deficit for next year.
Library officials believe that by selling some of the art collection – which has a total value of approximately $3.17 million – they can add more money to the library endowment, which would then help to provide additional revenue on an annual basis.
The library also believes that if they were to stay committed to keeping all the artwork, they would see an addition cost for both restoration and security.
“$130,000 is what we project it would cost to upgrade the Fireplace Room so that it meets the needs to continue displaying these works,” Rankin said. “But it doesn’t include staff costs to have someone manage it. It just covers the cost of fixing the HVAC and security systems.”
Rankin also said there would be separate restoration fees to consider, which would involve restringing and reframing several of the pieces.
Ten different people addressed the board during the meeting, with about half against selling the artwork, while the other half supported the board’s initial decision.
“Mary Prendergast’s will stipulated that a gallery be built in the library to house a permanent collection and it was included in the construction of 1891,” said city resident Diane Soule. “The library was a gift to the city and the art collection was part of that gift. [The community] thought it would be safe and protected. But board members voted unanimously to sell it, right out from under our noses.”
“These are assets, but there are assets in this building that are more important than these assets,” said city resident Doug Champ. “This library functions for everyone, not necessarily an art person – but a reader, or someone who’s interested in research, or someone who needs guidance when their young. So what I say to this community, ‘Would you rather be looking at the artwork? Or would you rather have a successful child who’s able to read and write and use a computer?’
“The artwork has served a purpose and now its time to move on. The artwork can not be maintained in this environment. Do you want to spend additional money and keep these on the wall or do you want to channel these to other more important assets?” Champ asked.
“I know that you have probably looked at tons of [solutions], but where are those numbers? What are the different things that we can try?” asked area resident Hillary Hornyak. “There are community members that are willing to step forward and help and I think that’s what you’re seeing here today. They want to be included in this decision and make an impact in some way.”
Later in the meeting, the board entered executive session to address personnel and contract matters and following the closed-door session, it returned to open session to announce it will not deaccession any artwork until after a public input session is held.
Rankin said the purpose of the input session is to identify fundraising options and other solutions to help close the budget deficit without having to sell the art collection.
“We recognize its an emotional issue for folks and we’re willing to listen to alternatives,” Rankin said. “A couple of folks who don’t want to sell the art said, ‘we want to sit down. W have a couple of ideas,’ and we’re willing to say, ‘Okay. Let’s sit down and listen to those ideas.”
The input meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 8 and will be facilitated by Prendergast board members Bruce Gleason and Joni Blackman. It will be open to the public.
Rankin said the board’s finance committee will be meeting at the end of this month to continue to review the financial challenges facing the library and what can be done to address them.
“We want to have our budget committee meeting on Sept. 28 and hopefully, out of that meeting, we’ll have a very clear idea of where we stand for 2016. At that point, we’ll be in a better position to look at what art we might need to sell.”
The board has already signed into a contract with Sotheby’s to auction the artwork, should they decide to deaccession any of the pieces. Rankin said Sotheby’s would only be used to auction the oil paintings in the collection, much of which were willed to the library from the Prendergast and Packard families during the early 20th century.
The library has also requested that County Surrogate Court Judge Stephen Cass grant the library permission to sell the artwork if it chooses. That is required because the artwork was given to the library and intended to be a permanent asset.
The next meeting for the board of trustees is Thursday, Oct. 15, which would be the earliest that the board could met to again discuss and possible deaccession pieces of its art collection.