JAMESTOWN – About 50 people showed up for a public input session Thursday night at the James Prendergast Library to discuss the future of its art collection.
The library board hosted the meeting to hear from the public about what can be done to help preserve and maintain the $3.17 million art collection while also closing a large deficit in its operating budget.
Library board president Tom Rankin said he was happy to see a large turnout and some ideas come forward.
“Some folks had some good comments,” Rankin told WRFA following the meeting. “Some folks support us and some folks wish we made different choices. But it’s all part of the process, we need to hear from everybody.”
For several months the library board has been looking into the idea of selling some of its art collection to help close the budget gap, but placing the proceeds in an endowment which could then bring revenue into the library on a regular basis.
Opponents of the plan to sell the art collection want the library to pursue other fundraising options and Rankin said that is something that will be considered.
“We have some great ideas and we will get our fundraising committee going,” Rankin said. “We will explore – we want to do these things. We’ve done fundraising in the past. We had a concert with Serendipity a couple of years ago, we do the literacy run, we hold Scrabble tournaments, so we’ve done a few things but we’re willing to try different things as well.”
One of those who attended was Jamestown resident Karen Hansen, who said she went to the meeting to let the board know there are community members who want to help out and save the art.
“Jamestown has a lot of poverty and a lot of its citizens will never get the chance to see art of this caliber,” Hansen said. “The fact that it’s here, and the solution to fix a budget shortfall is to sell [the art], to me, is ironic, because really, the art could be making the library money, if it was used correctly.”
Hansen and others want to create a committee of community members dedicated to raising funds to ensure the art isn’t sold.
Some attendees also were critical of the board for failing to provide full transparency regarding the discussion to sell the artwork. They felt there should have been more of a public outreach effort earlier this year, informing the public that a budget deficit was looming and that selling the artwork was a real possibility, rather than only discussing the issue during the regular board meetings, which sees little to no public attendance.
While the community works to find alternatives, Rankin said the board will continue to look at the budget and identify ways to close the gap without selling the artwork, but he said that won’t be easy to do without having to make tough cuts for programming and staffing.
The board has also already signed into a contract with Sotheby’s to auction the artwork, should they decide to deaccession any of the pieces. 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. Rankin said he’s not sure when Judge Cass will make a ruling on the request.
The board will continue to discuss the budget issue and artwork during its next regular board meeting on Thursday, Oct. 22. The meeting begins at 12:15 p.m. in the Fireplace Room and is open to the public.