JAMESTOWN – A group of residents concerned with the Prendergast Library’s plan to sell off a portion of its art collection is asking the Jamestown city officials to intervene.
Local residents Dianne Soule and Lily Grice spoke during the Jamestown City Council’s work session Monday night, informing the council that the library will likely act on selling pieces of its art collection this coming Thursday.
Grice and Soule approached the council in an effort to not only raise awareness, but to also gain its support.
“We mainly want to make sure everybody knows what’s going on,” Grice said. “If city council members know what’s going on, that means the public should know what’s going on as well. We want their support. We know they’re not able to change what the library is going to do or not going to do, but as long as their aware and we have their support, it holds weight with a lot of people in the community.”
A $3.17 Million Dollar Asset
The Prendergast Library Board of Trustees has been discussing the sale of its artwork for the past several months. The entire art collection is listed as an asset on its 2013 990 tax form worth a total of $3.17 million dollars. Much of the collection includes 19th and early 20th century paintings by artists from America and Europe that were gifted to the library by various residents, including the Prendergast family.
Prendergast Library Director Tina Scott has told WRFA that at this time, the board has not yet decided which pieces of its collection will be deaccessioned, only that the board doesn’t plan to sell art that was created by local artists, such as Roger Tory Peterson, or art that has local historical significance, such as portraits of members of the Prendergast family.
Scott also said that the plan is to put any proceeds collected from the artwork sale into an endowment, which would then help to generate money on an annual basis to help close any annual operating deficits.
Currently the library is facing a $90,000 shortfall this year, with a projected $180,000 shortfall in 2016.
Despite the financial challenges, a growing number of residents are coming out against selling the artwork, with more than 400 signing an online petition opposed to the sale.
Besides being upset with the sale of the artwork, the group is also concerned with the process, saying there has been little to no transparency. While the board has been discussing the issue in its regular meetings, Soule says there has been no public outreach attempt, to either learn more about what the community would like to see, or to try and figure out alternatives to selling the work.
“We understood it was a gift to the library so we never thought we should have a guard at the door – or actually the back door in this instance – because in the minutes it states that they would be very transparent and open up to the public [regarding the sale]. We only, luckily, heard just a little snippet of what was going on and we were so alarmed that we immediately went into action.”
City Council President Greg Rabb said its likely the council will not get involved with the artwork controversy, saying that the city feels the members of the library board know what’s best. However, he said personally he is against the sale.
The library is the largest non-government recipient of funding from the city. This year it received approximately $340,000 and will likely see that same amount in 2016.
Meanwhile, the library will hold a meeting this week to further discuss and likely act on which pieces of artwork it plans to sell. Opponents of the sale will also be in attendance to go on record as being against it. The meeting begins at 12:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17 and is open to the public.