As the Barnes Foundation prepares to unveil its new building on Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway later this month, key investors in the effort to relocate the foundation's world-famous art collection from suburban Merion, including the Pew Charitable Trusts, are convinced the Barnes wouldn't have survived without their support, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
The Barnes was struggling with a declining endowment and persistent budget shortfalls when the notion of moving its collection to downtown Philadelphia was first raised in 2001. At the time, Pew president and CEO Rebecca Rimel was looking to enhance the city's cultural infrastructure and was already working with the Annenberg Foundation, which was then headquartered in nearby Radnor, on a makeover of Independence National Historical Park.
The problem, in the case of the Barnes, was that its collection was governed by a strict trust indenture drawn up by founder Albert C. Barnes that barred such a move. With encouragement from local funders, however, including Pew and the Annenberg and Lenfest foundations, which agreed to cover the the foundation's legal costs, the Barnes began the long process of petitioning the courts to approve the move. In 2004, the Barnes was granted permission to move its collection to Philadelphia by Montgomery County judge Stanley Ott.
Pew Charitable Trusts president and CEO Rebecca W. Rimel recently told the Inquirer that Pew and its donor partners always believed that art in the public domain should be widely accessible. "That is what drove our decision to support the move of the Barnes Foundation from Merion, where visitation was severely limited, to Philadelphia, where thousands will be able to see the artwork each week," said Rimel. "Moving the Barnes to Center City was the only feasible solution to alleviate its severe and chronic financial problems. If these had remained unaddressed, the foundation's very existence would have been at risk."