JAMESTOWN – The James Prendergast Library Board of Trustees has approved a resolution that will move forward the effort to sell its art collection.
During its May board meeting Wednesday, members unanimously agreed to accept an agreement with the state New York State Attorney General’s office, effectively allowing the library to move forward with selling the collection, on the condition the artwork is sold via a reputable auction house.
The board has discussed selling the art collection for the past two years. It’s value is estimated to be $1.2 million to $1.6 million.
Board President Tom Rankin says the board believes that selling the collection could help to bring in much-needed additional revenue.
In 2016 we went out for a vote to see if the taxpayers would support us directly, and that vote failed. Later in the year the city cut their funding for the library by 73 percent. So we really need to increase our revenue. We’ve done a great job cutting expenses over the last year, but we still need to increase our revenue in order to stay open,” Rankin explained to WRFA following the vote. “The proceeds from the sale of the art collection will go into our endowment, so that it will generate incomes for us for many years to come.”
Because the art collection was purchased with money bequeathed to the library on the condition the artwork remain in possession of the library, the issue had to be taken up in Surrogate’s Court and an agreement with the Attorney General’s office was necessary before the library could legally move forward with selling any of the collection. Now that an agreement has been reached, the collection can now go to auction, but Rankin says a timeline of when that may happen is still being worked out.
“We don’t have any offer at this time and we don’t have anything established as a timeline, but through the next couple of months we hope to get that settled and make an announcement regarding that,” Rankin said.
Selling the art collection garnered controversy when it was first proposed in 2015, with a group of residents coming forward calling for the collection to remain in possession of the library, or at the very least to stay in the Jamestown area so it could be appreciated by the community, as was the intent when much of it was first purchased nearly a century ago.
A couple from Texas with ties to Jamestown donated $60,000 to the library at the end of 2015, in order to delay any possible sale and give the library and community time to try and find a way to keep the collection from going to auction.
Rankin said that while some were upset with the proposed sale of the art collection, no one in the community has yet to come forward with a plan or the necessary resources to keep it from being sold. He did acknowledge an initial proposal to purchase the collection so it can stay in the Chautauqua County area, but with the conditions in the agreement, the library is only allowed to sell the collection through auction.
“I like the collection and have always liked the collection. Our job as board members is to the library and keeping the library open. The collection hanging on the walls isn’t helping in that regard,” Rankin explained. “We need to have this asset work for us and produce money. So in that regard, yes, I’m happy we can do that, though I admit I wish things were a little different. But with the funding cuts we’ve had, and the expenses we have to have, I don’t see any other choice and I don’t think the board does either. It was a unanimous decision.”
The board will likely continue to discuss the sale of the art collection in the coming months. The next library board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 15 at 5:15 p.m.