Barnes Switches Course The Foundation Is Seeking To Mend Some Of Its Relationships, In The Wake Of Its Deficit And Richard Glanton's Departure.

Posted: February 15, 1998

Richard H. Glanton's departure as president of the Barnes Foundation was just days old last week when the foundation's new leaders began to talk about bringing alienated constituencies back into the fold.

It's a startling goal for an institution that has spent much of its recent and not-so-recent past suing or being sued. Glanton, president for 7 1/2 years, may have brought the Barnes' priceless collection of more than 2,000 Impressionist, post-Impressionist, modernist and African works of art to a larger, worldwide audience, but his litigious tenure didn't win friends closer to home.

``We are going to be looking for ways to make sure we mend relationships with our neighbors and those who have traditionally been friends with the Barnes,'' said Kenneth M. Sadler, the newly installed Barnes Foundation president. ``The challenge is first resolving the litigation that has been ongoing, because obviously that has . . . been a drain on its finances.''

Do those constituencies include the Violette de Mazia Trust, which has locked legal horns with the Barnes over various issues? Or the alumni of the Barnes classes, some of whom have challenged the Barnes in court? And what about the foundation's neighbors in Merion, some of whom were personally sued by the Barnes?

``Anybody who is a constituency of the Barnes, who has the best interests of the foundation and the legacy of Dr. Barnes at heart'' is included, said Sadler. He added that he was eyeing those groups - which have expressed passionate concern for the Barnes even as they opposed its leaders' policies - as potential donors to the foundation.

Foundation leaders have good reason to mend fences.

Four days into his tenure, Sadler said the foundation was running a deficit but he would not know how much before meeting with auditors this week.

It spent $1 million on legal fees last year, Sadler said, and might be liable for $1.8 million more if neighbors and Lower Merion officials sued by the Barnes succeed in winning back the cost of their defense. Income from the Barnes' endowment is down, as is revenue from ticket and gift-shop sales.

The Attorney General's Office has demanded an accounting of the Barnes' finances. Lawrence Barth, a deputy state attorney general, said his office was concerned about the Barnes' finances in general, and the amount being spent on legal fees in particular.

``The board of trustees are fiduciaries, and they are responsible for their actions,'' said Barth. ``If someone complains, and the complaint is sustained by the court, the trustees can be held liable for the financial consequences.''

Glanton, a rainmaker for the Center City law firm of Reed Smith Shaw McClay, was not only president, but also acted as director of the Barnes, approving every decision - from deciding which school group could visit to signing off on his own expenses. Glanton has repeatedly declined to discuss his tenure. ``He won't talk,'' said Barnes spokeswoman Victoria Clayton on Friday.

Sadler, a North Carolina dentist, plans to delegate day-to-day responsibilities to an executive director - a first at the Barnes. Temporarily, the Barnes has brought in Earle L. Bradford Jr., a former Arco Chemical Co. executive, to serve as interim chief administrative officer - at a rate of $1,000 a day. That fee outraged Linda Z. Marston, a former HUD regional director hired by Glanton in August. On Thursday she quit, citing Bradford's high salary and limited Barnes financial resources.

What's amazing, say nonprofit professionals, is that the Barnes has gone this long without an executive director.

``They should be putting in a museum director,'' said Nancy Burd, manager of the Cultural Facilities Fund, Philadelphia Region, which advises nonprofit organizations. ``I think the structure they've had is inappropriate. Every major institution in the world has to know that museum professionals are the people you should have running museums.''

Despite the name, the Barnes is not a foundation. It does not award grants. And although it has one of the world's great art collections (it has 57 Cezannes), it does not call itself a museum. Founder Albert C. Barnes, a Philadelphia butcher's son who made a fortune on an antiseptic he patented, shunned the museum establishment and forbade loans of the paintings he collected. Yet he wanted ``the plain people'' to have a chance to see them.

Barnes, who died in 1951, placed onerous conditions on how his collection could be viewed. Many of these constraints survive, and recent court rulings have complicated them further. Today, the Barnes may admit only 500 people a week. It is open 10 months per year. Admission fees have been kept low by court order.

No one would be happier to see current restrictions lifted than Tom Muldoon, president of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

``It's an economic engine that is not used,'' says Muldoon. ``In this day and age I don't think any city, but particularly Philadelphia, can afford to not maximize its resources. And the Barnes is just an unbelievable resource. It's the one asset that has the most interest, the most potential, the least amount of marketing and the biggest upside to bring people on a national basis and internationally to Philadelphia.''

Muldoon says the only way the Barnes can achieve its potential as a draw to the region is for its hours to be extended.

The Barnes is still fighting that battle.

Judith E. Stein, a Philadelphia-based independent curator, says Barnes' vision belongs to another age. ``Wouldn't it be great if we could still dedicate a two-year period of our lives to classes, and everyone from factory workers to socialites could dedicate themselves to art?'' she said, referring to the ``Barnesian'' method of art appreciation that still has adherents today. Those Barnes loyalists believe the foundation should still function today primarily as a school.

Says Stein: ``I think the answer is to jettison some, if not all, of the restrictions. Or modify them. If the Barnes becomes more museumlike and at the same time pays more attention to the education components, they would honor the spirit, if not the letter, of the founder.''

Striking the right balance may not be easy.

``The challenge is to take the character of the past and keep going forward,'' said Anne d'Harnoncourt, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. ``It's a complicated task, but an exciting one.''

``My hope is that in their efforts to revitalize the Barnes they don't lose the fabulous idiosyncratic character that makes it unique,'' says Paula Marincola, director of the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative. ``I love the Barnes because of that.''

Barnes trustees have spoken for years of creating an art education program in cooperation with Lincoln University, which, as Barnes dictated, controls four of five seats on the Barnes board. Sadler said both education and access to the collection would be central to the Barnes' mission: ``Where the balance will be I can't say at this time.''

Perhaps more challenging than finding the right philosophical balance is coming to a compromise with Lower Merion Township, which insists that the Barnes must either abide by restricted hours or apply for a variance to allow it to operate a museum in its residential neighborhood.

Marian Godfrey, director of the culture program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said hiring an executive director was an important step in the development of the Barnes.

``Glanton has taken the Barnes a long way toward being professionalized,'' says Godfrey. ``That's what must happen in this world if the Barnes is going to continue to be an important resource. It seems to me that this institution is progressing in the right ways.''

``I think what he [Glanton] tried to do was the right thing,'' said Muldoon. ``Obviously, in his way of doing things, it became very personalized with the neighbors. You would hope that everybody takes a glass of milk or has a cup of tea and sits down to figure out what makes sense. . . . Part of the complication is, some of these lawsuits have a life of their own. Unless some of those lawsuits just go away, you could be in Barnesgate for a long time.''

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