JAMESTOWN – The James Prendergast Library board of trustees will hold its monthly meeting Thursday, with the possibility of library officials acting on a measure involving the future of the Prendergast art collection, with an estimated value of $1.17 million dollars.
Last month the library announced it had reached an agreement with the state’s attorney general’s office that would allow it to sell the collection, but only if done so by auction. The agreement was necessary because the library had filed a request with Surrogate Court to allow the auction to proceed, but the AG’s office was initially against the sale. The primary concern from the AG was that library, which is a nonprofit organization, may not receive the actual full value if it were to just sell the collection to any buyer. Instead, the AG insisted the sale only take place via an auction.
With the agreement in place, the board can now proceed with identifying an auction house to facilitate the sale, and there’s a possibility they will select an auction house during today’s meeting.
BOARD SUPPORTS SELLING COLLECTION, DESPITE LOCAL EFFORT TO SAVE IT
The library board is in unanimous support of selling the collection, saying it would help with the financial challenges the library currently faces. In recent years the library has seen the amount of public donations decrease, and last year the Jamestown City Council, due to the city’s on financial challenges, voted to eliminate $250,000 in contributions to the library. That amounted to a 21 percent cut in operational revenue for the library.
Board president Tom Rankin also recently said in an op-ed piece that there is overwhelming support in the community to sell the collection, with 99 percent of the participants saying that “the library should no longer have an art collection or even be in the ‘museum business.'”
However, WRFA spoke with some community members who support keeping the art earlier this week, and they disagree with Rankin’s statement.
“My wife and I ran into a gentleman from Westfield, an art collector and art enthusiast, and he was in one of those focus groups. There were 12 people in his focus group. When presented with the option to sell the art or keep it, not a single person said, ‘Sell the art.’ I have another friend who was in a separate focus group and he describes the same situation. So I think Mr. Rankin is a little off in his facts,” explained local resident Bill Locke.
“There are a lot of people who think they should sell the art, that is true,” added another member of the group, Robert Plyler, who until recently also wrote for the Post-Journal. “But most of those people have never heard the whole story of what has gone on and one of the problems has been the difficulty we’ve had of getting the three news papers to share that story. People would write to me and say ‘I love that art. I grew up on it. My parents took me to see it. I want it saved’ and I would say, ‘Well write to the paper.’ They would reply with, ‘I did, but it was never printed.’ Person after person told me that.”
Rankin also suggests that those who support keeping the artwork in Jamestown at the library are comprise a loosely organized group who have done nothing to help raise money or offer suggestions on how the library can fix its financial situation.
Plyler takes issue with that, pointing out that it was the local residents who were able to bring the Texas-based couple Jesse and Cathy Marion into the discussion (Cathy Marion is also a Jamestown-area native), and they ended up making a $60,000 donation to the library, while also offering help in save the collection by working to upgrade the library facilities.
“The board at first said they wanted to sell the art collection because they library didn’t have the appropriate facilities to accommodate an expensive art collection,” Plyler said. “[The Marions] were shocked that this artwork was in danger so they offered to pay for the cleaning, the repairs, the framing, and the security system, the climate control, and so on. Everyone thought ‘well good, the problem is solved.’ But that turned out to not really be why the library board wanted to sell the art. They wanted the money.”
The Marions then donated $60,000 to the library to buy time in order for officials to come up with an alternative plan to selling the collection. And late last year they offered to purchase the entire art collection for its assessed value of $1.17 million so that it would continue to stay in the community, even if the library no longer wanted it. But that offer had to be turned down because of the agreement with the attorney general’s office.
Rankin has stated that the board will no longer delay the effort to sell the artwork in order to find an alternative solution.
“The library’s funding problems dictate that the library cannot wait up to another twenty-four months to sell the art collection,” Rankin said in the recent op-ed. “The library will now proceed to sell its art collection through an auction house that can successfully handle a collection of this size and quality.”
The library board meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:15 p.m. Thursday in the Library Fireplace room and is open to the public.