Fisk University Gets the Go Ahead to Sell Stake in O’Keeffe Collection, With Conditions


After more than a year of battling both estates and the government, Fisk University have gotten an official okay to sell off a stake in their large collection of Georgia O’Keefe paintings to help them pay off debts. Well, sort of. While earlier this year the school had tried selling off half the collection, in something of a shared/borrowing agreement with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, a judge had struck the deal down, saying it violated O’Keefe’s wishes in her original donation of the collection, though the government was open to hearing more ideas if the university had any. So, despite pleas from museum directors across the country, Fisk went back and revised the plan, with the judge ultimately deciding that it was okay for Crystal Bridges to pay $30 million for a state in the collection, only a third of those funds could be used by the university to pay off their bills. So while pleased that they’ve finally won in court, Fisk still doesn’t seem very happy. Here’s the full statement put out by the university concerning the ruling:

Fisk announced on yesterday that the Chancery Court in Davidson County has approved its request to enter into a sharing agreement with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art under which that Museum would acquire an undivided one-half interest in the Stieglitz Art Collection in return for a payment of $30 million. The Court also ruled that Fisk may only have the discretionary use of $10 million of the proceeds and that the remainder of the funds are to be placed in an endowment fund and used solely for the costs of displaying and maintaining the art.

Fisk President Hazel R. O’Leary said: “We are pleased with the Court’s ruling that we can consummate the sharing agreement with Crystal Bridges. However, the Court’s decision to restrict $20 million of the funds so that interest from the endowment is used to support the art is excessive. This is because the income from the $20 million restricted endowment is approximately $1,000,000 annually. This far exceeds the amount necessary to secure and maintain the Collection. The evidence we presented to the Court in oral testimony was that our costs to display and maintain the Collection is approximately $130,000 per year. Further, Alice Walton has agreed to fund an endowment of $1,000,000 which is to be used for the support and maintenance of the Collection.” Clearly, the funds that will be produced from this endowment will generate many times the amount actually needed to maintain the gallery, support the Collection and provide for art education.

President O’Leary also noted the Attorney General proposed to the Court that a $1.6 million endowment be established to generate approximately $130,000 per year for the care and maintenance of the Collection.