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$500,000 Barnes Foundation grant questioned

August 19, 2010 | 10:29 am

  Iron worker building the new Barnes Foundation AP Photo Matt Rourke An obscure but important early player in the now widely criticized plan to move the Barnes Foundation's unique collection of Post-Impressionist, early Modern and other art from a residential suburb to a redevelopment area five miles away in downtown Philadelphia came under fire at the agency's Wednesday board meeting after months of mounting complaints.

The Delaware River Port Authority, a Camden, N.J.-based regional transportation agency for southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, has been sharply rebuked for what Bloomberg News called "nepotism and conflicts of interest" in its operations. The Port Authority last year collected almost $300 million in bridge tolls, commuter rail fares and other revenue.

In January 2003 the Delaware River Port Authority allocated $500,000 to the Barnes Foundation to help relocate the art collection to Philadelphia. The unusual transit authority grant came almost two years before a local court made a controversial ruling that allowed the move.

A Rutgers University economist said that neither the  Delaware Port Authority nor the Barnes had done economic impact studies before the expenditure was approved. Agency commissioners announced Wednesday that the authority will cease doing economic development work unrelated to transportation.

Friends of the Barnes Foundation, a citizens group that opposes the relocation, commissioned a study of the grant last year from Rutgers University economics professor-emeritus Matityahu Marcus, which raised doubts about the gift. Marcus' report found "no available evidence that established economic criteria have been employed to assess the project's desirability by any of the parties involved," including the Port Authority and the Barnes Foundation.

Marcus, a widely published specialist in public utilities operations, also questioned claims that a relocated Barnes would have a significant impact on local tourism, as those supporting the plan hope.

Representatives of the community group who attended the Port Authority meeting issued a statement describing the grant as "pork barrel politics" and called for an investigation into the Barnes gift.

The Associated Press, which described the Delaware River Port Authority as "a vestige of political patronage" in the area, reported that commissioners at the meeting also approved "opening the bi-state agency's books to regular audits; complying with open-records laws; ending closed-door caucus sessions, and banning no-bid contracts and the hiring of family of employees."

-- Christopher Knight

Follow me @twitter.com/KnightLAT

Photo: Iron worker at the Barnes Foundation’s new site in Philadelphia; Credit: Matt Rourke /  Associated Press


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Comments () | Archives (10)

"The Art of the Steal" is an extraordinary documentary on the problems plaguing the Barnes since it's creation.

Netflix description:

A gripping tale of intrigue and mystery in the art world, this film traces the history of the Barnes collection of Post-Impressionist paintings, which was worth billions and became the subject of a power struggle after the 1951 death of the owner. Dr. Albert Barnes collected 181 Renoirs, 69 CĂ©zannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos and many other valuable paintings. But the political wrangling over the collection eventually led to its division.

The collection should not be moved. Maintaining this collection at the Merion estate provides the opportunity to view the collection in a unique and historic environment.
The Merion site should be on a National Registry of such Historical buildings. The Barnes Foundation should also devise a plan to increase the efficiency of access by the public to this estate and collection. Perhaps the advocates of such a move to Philadephia could devise a rationale to move Longwood Gardens to Philadephia too.
That concept is as ludicrous as moving the Barnes collection.

I volunteer at the Getty Villa, where neighbors also had issues with traffic, noise, "outsiders" coming into the area. Since reopening in 2006, we are on a conditional use permit, limiting the number of buses and cars that are allowed to enter the property each operating day, and it has worked out quite nicely. Prospective visitors must make reservations, whether they arrive on a public bus or in a private car. We only have so many reservations per day available, which keeps us on the good side of the neighbors. And with a little foresight, the general public has access to our wonderful museum. If they can manage to keep the Barnes collection in Merion, the administrators could learn from the Getty Foundation and Trust.

While I don't think the Barnes Collection should be moved, I don't think stopping the DRPA activity in non-transportation related issues will be very helpful to the region as a whole.

As a native of the area, I can confidently say that the DRPA is notorious for its politics and nepotism, however, its politics cannot negate all the good that the agency does for the region. For instance, it has been a long time supporter of charter schools in the area, and has provided much needed assistance to several of the schools, even providing building space.

Did they make a bad move by not studying the economic impact of moving the Barnes collection downtown, yes. Should the entire region be punished for that mistake, no.

Laura is suggesting that NOT moving the Barnes would be punishing the region. I would argue that MOVING the Barnes is punishing the entire region. No one will ever again have the real thing. The apparent foregone conclusion that a Parkway Barnes will be somehow better and financially sustainable has no foundation in fact.

It's moving, it's a done deal. Get over it. In a couple of years few will care anyway. Sorry for the bad news, but I've seen this happen before in many other venues.

The building is going up as we speak.

This is a dead issue being driven by local Republicans to advance their party's candidates.

To DickyDunn. You could not be more wrong. Barnes advocates should be so lucky to have Republicans or any candidates at all pushing the cause of preservation for the Barnes. In fact, the biggest enemy for Barnes preservation is Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett, who is currently Pennsylvania's Attorney General and the only official with legal standing to intervene. Instead of doing his job, he apparently finds it more expedient politically to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the issue.

To concerned constituent. The Barnes is already eligible for an honor higher than National Register. It is eligible for National Historic Landmark status, but ONLY if the art collection, purpose-built gallery, and historic arboretum remain intact. The Barnes Board, however, has other plans.

The Move-the-Barnes movement is mired in secrecy. Outwardly, it appears that the original Barnes Foundation's rights are being violated, and the slowness with which this has occurred does not make it justified. Nor do the end result (the "public good") or the fait accompli building construction.

This country holds private property rights as unalienable and sacrosanct. In order to uphold these rights, we must demand clarity from the people involved in the current institution or shut them down. If the PA attorney general will not uphold these rights, the claim must be elevated to the Federal level and new trustees appointed by the state who will uphold the intent of the Trust.

The Friends-of-the-Barnes Foundation, although noble in its' pursuit, has failed to establish strong legal arguments against the taking, largely because the secrecy around the pro-movement process is so tight. This is the absolute wrong reason for failure. We the people demand public transparency from all involved: the current Barnes Trustees, every donor (Pew, Annenberg, and Lenfest), the city of Philadephia, and the States of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The rights of the people must prevail.

Normally I might buy the argument that moving the collection to Philadelphia would be a good thing, as it would allow more people to see it. Hell, I'm a populist.

I just made a special trip to Philadelphia to visit family. I was going to go in November for Thanksgiving, but went early so that I could see the Barnes before it was moved. The entire experience is magnificent, and could not be duplicated everywhere else. It's not just the paintings and sculptures in this $25 BILLION collection. The works are deliberately arranged in a certain fashion with metal artifacts that Barnes meticulously placed himself, and the galleries are lit with gorgeous natural light that would be nearly impossible to duplicate.

This is a tragedy, and I'm amazed that there's no legal recourse.

I think it's telling that there are signs all over the (EXTREMELY WEALTHY AND EXCLUSIVE) neighborhood NOT to move the Barnes. Obviously there is not an issue with traffic and other such concerns.


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