Friday, July 11, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Barnes ex-boss: 'We never said we were "bankrupt."' Really?

"Bankruptcy was not the reason," despite claims at the time, writes ex-Barnes boss Kimberly Camp

Barnes ex-boss: 'We never said we were "bankrupt."' Really?

Japanese maples help frame the walkway up to the entrance of the Barnes Foundation, which has moved from Merion to its new and controversial location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer)
Japanese maples help frame the walkway up to the entrance of the Barnes Foundation, which has moved from Merion to its new and controversial location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer)

UPDATE: Despite then-Barnes Foundation boss Kimberly Camp's claim, her board's chairman Bernard Watson certainly did threaten bankruptcy -- in 2003, after Camp says she had restored financial stability. Read the story here. Excerpt:

"'Given our financial situation, given the unlikely situation where we're going to get the kind of support that we need, we're going into bankruptcy, and it's that simple,' Barnes board chairman Bernard Watson said yesterday. 'We go into bankruptcy, at which point the attorney general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania takes over, and it's up to him what happens to the Barnes after that.'"

EARLIER: Ex-Barnes Foundation head Kimberly Camp tells me it was the media, not the Barnes, who claimed the museum would go out of business if it didn't leave its original home in Merion for the new, taxpayer-and-foundation-funded Parkway site. According to Camp:

"We never said we were 'bankrupt.'

"Newspapers did.

"I don’t lie. Not wired for it."

She's talking about articles, starting with this 2000 news story in which the Inquirer repeated claims the Barnes was running out of money.

"It was true in 2000, but it wasn't true in 2002," Camp tells me.

EARLIER: Kimberly Camp, who headed the Barnes Foundation from 1999-2005 during its successful struggle to move the late Dr. Albert Barnes' art collection from its Merion home to the new taxpayer-subsidized Philadelphia museum after letting the world believe it had to move because bankruptcy was imminent (see timeline here), now says things weren't all that bad, and explains why the Barnes really moved, in a blog post here.

Camp's new account raises questions that have incensed the move's diehard opponents, who have gone on fighting, even after the new museum is open. Highlights from her post:

The Barnes' "circumstance required its relocation," Camp writes. "That circumstance was not bankruptcy. ...

"Bankruptcy was not the reason we filed the petition to move the Foundation to the city. At the time the petition was filed, the Barnes Foundation had a cash surplus and we had no debt -- none. But, saying so made the rescue so much more gallant.

"The reason for the Barnes Foundation move on to the Parkway in Philadelphia was simple. The same Indenture – the very same document that freezes the Barnes Foundation collection in time - also said very plainly, very specifically that if the Barnes Foundation was not viable in Merion, the collection should go to a Philadelphia institution.

"Barnes’ letters to and from colleagues and friends spoke of his interest in having the Foundation more accessible to common everyday working class people after his death. ...  Barnes wrote to his friend and colleague John Dewey, he worried that in an attempt to re-create the program once they were gone, people would set it in stone, make it rigid, and thereby destroy it. He was right.

"The negativity [about moving the museum to Philadelphia] from neighbors and former students was never about where the Barnes belonged. It was merely that [the move would show] it didn’t belong only to them."

Camp has a couple of complaints about the new drive-up museum -- it seems to her to credit the financial contributions of private-sector donors like Aramark chief Joseph Neubauer before Barnes himself; and the African art Barnes considered fundamental to modern art seems to her to be relegated to the background, compared to its prominent place in the original museum.

But it's her declaration that "saying so" -- letting people think the Barnes was broke -- wasn't really so, but instead sounded "so much more gallant" than the prosaic rationale of wanting more space and a downtown location, that brought opponents back to court.

"This new information is shocking, where the [former] president and CEO of the Barnes Foundation admits that everything that was said during the trial about not having enough money was false," thundered anti-move Friends of the Barnes lawyer Samuel Stretton, in a letter to Superior Court that was released by Friends leader Evelyn Yaari.

Stretton (who faces a contempt finding in relation to the case) asked Judge Stanley Ott, who heard the legal challenge to the move and ruled to allow the move, to hold a hearing on Camp's disclosure "since apparently false information was presented."

Joseph N. DiStefano
About this blog

PhillyDeals posts raw drafts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area finance, investment, commercial real estate, tech, hiring and public spending, which he's been writing since 1989, mostly for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn, taught writing at St. Joe's, and has written the book Comcasted, more than a thousand columns, and thousands of articles, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at JoeD@phillynews.com or 215 854 5194.

Joseph N. DiStefano
Also on Philly.com
Stay Connected