Citing major financial difficulties, the Barnes Foundation has filed a court petition to move its extensive art collection from its historical suburban site in Merion to downtown Philadelphia.
For 80 years, the Barnes Foundation has promoted art appreciation, functioning almost solely on donations. It was opened in 1922 by Albert Barnes, who obtained his M.D. from Penn and earned his fortune through medical research in Germany.
When Barnes had secured enough money, he opened the foundation next to his house, using most of his own art. Since then, the foundation has obtained art from impressionist and post-impressionist collections worldwide and is renowned for its attractive gallery.
When he founded his gallery, Barnes issued a number of stipulations, which are the root of the current financial troubles and could also prevent the museum from moving to the potentially more profitable urban location.
"When Dr. Barnes left his collection... he wrote a lot of restrictions that were fine then, but hard to live with today as the world changes," said Arlin Adams, the attorney representing the Barnes Foundation.
"They are very restricted on how many people can visit and on what days they can visit," he added. "They may not charge more than $5 for admission. Today, that's a low price for a museum of this quality."
Adams said that the foundation has no ancillary services and is further limited by a small board of trustees. There are only five trustees, and, according to Adams, "that is too small of a base for a museum of this caliber."
According to Adams, moving to Center City would increase the number of visitors, which will in turn help alleviate the museum's financial struggles.
"They thought for a long time about making this collection more accessible," he said, "Downtown Philadelphia will help to create many possibilities for the foundation."
The move would be acceptable to both the city and the foundation, as the mayor's office has already stated that it would be happy to welcome the Barnes Foundation to the downtown area.
"It would be an unbelievable addition to the already rich cultural tradition of this city," mayoral spokesman Frank Keel said.
But Keel acknowledges that the move could cause some friction.
"It's an awkward position -- we don't want to anger any of our fellow Delaware Valley residents in Merion who may feel like they are losing something that belongs to them," he said.
Adams, however, said that Merion residents would like to see the foundation move.
"The neighbors resent the traffic that the museum causes," he said. "They are continuously going to the zoning board."
As a result of zoning board rulings, the already floundering foundation has had many legal bills to pay.
Officials at the foundation have filed a petition for deviation from the original indenture that is forcing them to stay in Merion, and are hoping that a judge will eliminate the restriction put in place by Barnes 80 years ago.
Adams said there is reason to believe that a court would grant such a request. Initially, the foundation couldn't admit any visitors. But 25 years ago, Pennsylvania's attorney general deemed that practice illegal.
Keel echoed Adams' optimism. He also said that the move is vital to sustaining the foundation.
"Hopefully it will happen," he said. "It sounds to us as if they really have no choice; it's a move that's based upon their survival."
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