Ruling that the plan does not adequately address Fisk's long-term needs, Chancellor Sandra Hobbs Lyle has rejected the state attorney general's plan for Fisk University's Stieglitz Collection, instead proposing a modified agreement with an Arkansas-based museum to display the collection half the year.
"The best the Attorney General has been able to do is propose a short-term solution. A temporary fix, however, is insufficient. The parties have been in court over the Collection long enough. Finality and certainty are needed," she wrote in an opinion issued late Tuesday afternoon.
Under a plan proposed by Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper, the Tennessee Arts Commission would take "temporary possession" of the 101-piece collection, which includes works by Stieglitz himself and by his wife, acclaimed artist Georgia O'Keeffe. The commission would contract with the Frist Center for the Visual Arts to "maintain and display" the collection, which would be open to the public free of charge.
Lyle rejected the plan because it does not address the larger problem — that Fisk wants to sell the collection to keep afloat.
Instead, the Chancellor proposed a modification of the school's proposal for a joint venture with the Bentonville, Ark.-based Crystal Bridges Museum, which had been previously rejected because many of the proposed portions of the joint operating agreement violate conditions of the original gift.
The collection was donated to Fisk in the late 1940s and early 1950s by O'Keeffe. Fisk agreed to numerous restrictions designed to keep the collection at the school, including provisions barring the sale of all or part of the collection. Fisk and O'Keeffe also agreed to restrictions on allowing the collection to leave the campus. Fisk has been trying for five years to get court approval for a deal with Crystal Bridges.
Under the original proposal, Fisk would receive $30 million for half its interest in the collection allowing Crystal Bridges the right to display the collection at the Arkansas facility six months each year.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals barred the original deal because it violates numerous tenets of the O'Keeffe gift covenants, including ownership and accessibility for Nashville residents and other Southerners.
Lyle said she would allow the $30 million sale and a six-month display of the art at Crystal Bridges — based on a court-approved schedule — but certain changes will need to be made to the agreement.
Lyle's changes essentially prohibit Fisk from full divesture of the collection — she would require all disputes to be heard in Nashville, she bars the joint venture from incorporating in Delaware, and removes a security interest proposal, all in the name of keeping a Nashville and Fisk connection to the famed collection.
Lyle opines that there would be no connection between O'Keeffe, the collection and Nashville without Fisk University, so any plan to keep the art in the city without involving the university violates the intent of the gift. Further, since not allowing Fisk to monetize the collection and thus keep its doors open would necessarily lead to Fisk's closure — thus eliminating the connection between art and city — the university's existence is a prime consideration.
"Having the Collection in Nashville only half the time and reducing Fisk's ownership to a half is not a perfect solution, but it does keep Fisk afloat, thereby maintaining and holding true to the law's recognition of the donor's deliberate selection of Fisk for the art," she wrote.