Separate Board to Oversee Gund Gallery
Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
The Board of Trustees voted last weekend to separate the Graham Gund Gallery from the College in a move that will give the Gallery its own Board of Trustees, much like The Kenyon Review and the Philander Chase Corporation.
The move has been in the works for a while, but studio art and art history faculty members who helped plan the Gallery were not notified. The lack of communication speaks to other tensions the Gallery has had to work through with faculty over the course of its first year at Kenyon.
Once paperwork is filed and approved by the Internal Revenue Service, the Gallery will gain 501(c)(3) status as a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation, making donations to the Gallery tax-deductible. The Gallery staff will still be employees of the College, and many of the operating costs of the Gallery will come from Kenyon’s general budget.
“[The new legal status] sets us up to be more responsible in a number of ways,” Gund Gallery Director Natalie Marsh said. “… As we go into a collecting mode, [we will have] a separate, very specialized Board over the Gallery that would answer in a kind of liaison-ship to the Board of Trustees for the College.”
Those serving on the Gallery’s Board will be more familiar with the legal, ethical and financial issues related to developing an art collection, she said.
President S. Georgia Nugent, who has worked with Marsh and Provost Nayef Samhat to oversee the proposal, was quick to point out that the move does not disconnect the Gallery from the College.
“I think there’s a real misperception that somehow this spins off the Gallery as a separate entity. It does not,” she said. “This particular legal form establishes a corporation, but the corporation, in legal terms, has a sole member — and the sole member is the College.”
The move aims primarily to establish a separate Board of Trustees with more interest in art and gallery management, Nugent said.
Ultimately, the Gallery will still be governed by the College’s Board of Trustees.
“A gallery having a semi-independent board, which is represented on the larger Kenyon board, is not an unusual thing,” Samhat said.
Moves like this are common for museums similarly connected to colleges, according to Marsh. The Wexner Center for the Arts at the Ohio State University is also set up as a separate 501(c)(3). Oberlin College’s famous Allen Memorial Art Museum, however, is not; its staff directly answers to Oberlin’s Board of Trustees.
Becoming a 501(c)(3) organization will also better allow the Gallery to work toward establishing its own separate endowment, a long-term goal of Marsh’s. Though the Gallery could set up a separate endowment without this new legal status, the distinction will ensure donors do not take the College’s overall budget into account when considering whether to donate to the Gallery itself.
“When you’re part of a much bigger non-profit [like the College], it’s harder to go out and be effective when asking for financial support from foundations and other agencies, because you look like you have a bigger budget than you do,” Marsh said. “If you’re a separate non-profit, your finances have to be separate.”
The Gallery’s new legal status may complicate the conversation about the deassession, or selling off, of College-owned artwork. Artwork currently housed in Greenslade Special Collections, for example, is not the Gallery’s property, so it cannot display or maintain it, according to Professor of Art History Eugene Dwyer, who chairs the department and worked closely with the administration and trustees to plan the Gallery.
The Gallery, however, has plans to acquire pieces in the College’s collection that are considered fine art, though determining which pieces fall into that category will be difficult, according to Marsh. The move will ensure the pieces are conserved, but it may also limit the College’s ability to display work around campus.
Dwyer, for one, has “some concerns about transfer of ownership [of art] and what that would imply,” he said.
“It’s still all a part of the College, so it’s still all accessible to everybody, ultimately,” Marsh said.
The Gallery’s new Board of Trustees will have control over the purchase and sale of all art in the Gallery’s collection. Such decisions have been controversial recently as colleges across the country have looked at their art collections as assets that could be sold to reconcile budget deficits. Kenyon’s Art Acquisitions Committee dealt with the subject a few years ago, when a donated painting was sent for appraisal. Some worried the funds raised from the piece would be used to fund the new Gallery, an unethical practice according to standards set by the American Association of Museums. In the end, the piece was not sold.
“I worry about the possibility of bankruptcy on either end, either the Gallery or the College, and having to pledge the rest of the works of art in the collection,” Dwyer said.
Deassession, however, can also be healthy for museums, especially if the sale of artwork can be used to purchase new, more relevant art for a museum’s collection.