Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Barnes Foundation “Greenwash” Can’t Clean Up Toxic Waste of the Move


“Greenwashing” is all the rage.  The London Olympics were promoted as the “greenest” ever and sponsors Dow Chemical and British Petroleum (BP) stepped up to reap the publicity benefits.  Now the controversial Parkway Barnes is getting a good hosing down of “greenwash.”

The New York Times’ RandyKennedy reports that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has awarded Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) status to the Barnes Foundation for the Parkway building that houses the art collection of Albert Barnes.  A green roof, a cistern for watering the gardens, flooring in the galleries salvaged from Coney Island, etc. helped to win the USBC over.  How nice! 
photo credit Tom Crane
 
We would love to know how they figured in the environmental impact of bringing stone from Israel’s Negev desert to cover the exterior of the 93,000 square-foot building!  (LEED requirements call for building materials that have been extracted, harvested, or recovered within 500 miles.)  But that is a detail. 

The real point is that for all of the “greenwashing” this LEED status offers, the Parkway building’s very existence meant destruction of the internationally-revered, sustainable, accessible cultural site of the Barnes Foundation in Merion just a few away, on the border with the City. 
Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA 
 
The Barnes movers (a.k.a. Philly-stines) are being praised for a building that should never have been erected.  These are not people following the tenets of good stewardship of natural and cultural resources.  These are people motivated by commerce, political, gain, and "status" by exploiting amd debasing the Barnes legacy in a Big City power grab. 
Barnes Board Vice Chair Joseph Neubauer, former PA Gov. Rendell
 
As Philadelphian Sandy Bressler put it in a comment on the blog “Hidden City Philadelphia" 

“Seeking LEED Platinum Certification for an unnecessary and inferior Barnes “Museum” less than 5 miles from the fully functional, recently renovated and historically significant original mocks the notion of sustainability.  This whole endeavor is the essence of waste and destruction.”

Nice try, you guys, but the manipulations used to move of the art collection to Philadelphia (documented in the film The Art of theSteal”) have left an indelible toxic stench that even a “LEED Platinum” award cannot wash away. 
 
 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Former Barnes Foundation President and CEO Kimberly Camp shakes things up!

Kimberly Camp, President and CEO of the Barnes Foundation 1998-2005 (Phila. Tribune)

Fascinating and disturbing news came out last week about the Kimberly Camp writing that money - or the total lack thereof -- wasn't actually the reason she and her employers sought court permission to transfer the legendary Barnes art collection from Merion to Philadelphia.  Weirdly -- or maybe not --  the local papers of records (Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News) haven't printed a word about it. That's scary in itself, but let's not digress just yet.

About a week ago, the brilliant but beleagured attorney Sam Stretton-- whose case for saving the Barnes in Merion was dismissed AND sanctioned for $25,000 -- got revved-up all over again.  The cause:  blog posts written by former President and CEO of the Barnes Foundation Kimberly Camp stating that bankruptcy was NOT the reason for the move of the Barnes art collection from Merion to Philadelphia.  Say, WHAT?    

Here's what Kimberly Camp wrote on her blog:

"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."

Some people might read it and think, "Gee, I knew that. Why get excited?"  But Sam Stretton is not "some people" and he doesn't horse around when he sees something outrageous.  He understood that the Court had been told a completely different story by Ms. Camp and her employers in lengthy hearings in 2003 and 2004 in which the Barnes in Merion was presented as a hopeless financial basket case.  Sam knew what he had to do.  The new information from this top Barnes administrator and key witness was new evidence that should be reviewed by the Court.
Samuel C. Stretton, Esquire

In no time flat, Sam fired off a Petition to Superior Court in Norristown, asking that the appeal he filed be "remanded" - sent back - to Judge Ott in Orphans' Court for a hearing. (The Friends haven't posted the Petition to their website yet, hopefully coming soon.)

By the following Monday morning, Joseph N. DiStefano broke the story with "Barnes ex-boss 'We never said we were 'bankrupt. Really?" on his PhillyDeals blog. Soon enough, the Associated Press had JoAnn Loviglio's report up and running and by mid-day it had spread across the country.  Meanwhile, Los Angeles Times' art critic Christopher Knight described it on the Culture Monster blog. In the midst of all that, reporter Amanda Mahnke posted a highly detailed report for a hyper-local news outlet called Ardmore "Patch." Soon thereafter, Cheryl Allison -- who has clocked more professional hours on the Barnes saga than anyone, anywhere --  posted her story for Main Line Media News. Next day, the NYTimes' Randy Kennedy wrote "Ex-Barnes Head Says It Wasn't About Money" in Arts, Briefly.  Arts blogs, non-profit blogs, law blogs, even the cool real-estate blog "Curbed Philly" had a "Barnes Storm" post by Liz Spikol

The Friends have never experienced coverage like this before - ever - and they are amazed, and also gratified.  The implications of this story validate what they have been trying to say for years -- to the Court and anyone who would listen. There are other links pasted below.

Now what?  Will Superior Court remand the case to poor Judge Ott?  Will the Court tell Sam that he's got to go forward with the appeal in Superior Court, at the risk of being sanctioned again, big time?  Will Sam and Barnes Watch withdraw their appeal?  Will Judge Ott take command of the situation and schedule a hearing? 

Whatever happens, Ms. Camp has sure shaken things up and gotten a lot of attention.  This might even boost sales of the book she is threatening to publish under the mouthfull of a title, "Defending the Dead: The totally true story about The Barnes Foundation transformation."   Remember now, "totally true" means different things to different people -- but that's another story. 

Speaking of another story, let's get back to that Inquirer business in a separate post. This is quite enough.

Other reports:

 



Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Barnes World: Awards for Philly-Stines-in-Chief













(photo credit Tom Crane Photography, Inc.)
Philadelphia Inquirer’s Culture writer Peter Dobrin broke the news last night that  Aileen Roberts (Comcast) and Joseph Neubauer (Aramark Corporation) were the unanimous choices for The Philadelphia Award.

No reflection on Mr. Dobrin, but this news  is about as surprising as time marching on. 
We won’t bore you with the multiple layers of connections among Philly-stines that wormed their way into the Barnes and are ripping it apart. Just to mention that the Chair of the "Independence" Foundation that gives "The Philadelphia Award," is Phyllis W. Beck, former legal counsel for the Barnes Foundation. And Comcast executive David Cohen heads the Barnes Corporate Council.  All very cozy in Philadelphia, as usual.

The award announcement does include a couple of real gems.  Joe Neubauer is given credit for raising $150 million for the new building and more than $50 million for the endowment.  Wonder what happened to Rebecca Rimel of Pew, who used to get credit for raising the big bucks? 

But wait a second. let's remember that about $50 million for the pork barrel project is from Pennsylvania TAXPAYERS, part of the 2002 $107 million appropriation put in place when former state Senator for Philadelphia Vincent Fumo was the head of the Appropriations Committee.  He's in jail now.
Then there are Aileen Roberts’ self-serving comments about the building on the Parkway, including “…it takes your breath away.”  But gee, she doesn’t explain why.  According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung piece, “The Revenge of the Rich”  "The 'Barnes on the Freeway' is going to look like a cross between a multiplex cinema and an upside-down milk carton. 

Having seen it, we can tell you that it really is breathtaking, but not in a good way; rather in a "what were they thinking?!" way.

But on the occasion of the “honors” bestowed within the clique known as true Philly-stines, let’s turn to Dr. Albert C. Barnes and his words at the dedication of the Barnes Foundation in Merion on March 19, 1925:

“The Foundation is an educational institution and not an entertainment bureau for ‘aesthetes.’ Anybody serious can link up with us, but nobody is rich enough or prominent enough to get in with us on those qualities [alone].“  

(Reference taken from Art, education & African American culture by Mary Ann Meyers)

If only the Barnes Board members’ and supporters (Pew, Annenberg, Lenfest, et al.) wealth was matched with enough sophistication, imagination, creativity to let them see how to embrace the unique place that Dr. Barnes bequeathed instead of remaking what was already here, already accessible, and already financially sustainable.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Barnes Foundation's Anti-Friend Sanctions and a Gold-Plated Law Firm


Ralph G. Wellington, Esquire

The Barnes Foundation's lawyers at Schnader Harrison Segal and Lewis reacted vigorously to the Petition filed last year by Samuel C. Stretton, Esquire on behalf of Friends of the Barnes Foundation, BarnesWatch, and a number of individuals. Their Brief  reminded the Court that no one other than the Pennsylvania Attorney General has legal standing to intervene in the Barnes matter --  especially not the pesky, tenacious Friends who had already been dismissed by Judge Ott in 2008. And especially not a number of the individual petitioners, who have tried multiple times before to seek Justice for the Barnes Trust in Court.

Seems the Schnader defense team's legal arguments needed some heft to make them appear even more justified, especially when Mr. Stretton's Petition so clearly spelled out how messed up the Barnes case is. And most of all, they needed something to get these extremely annoying Barnes'inistas to SHUT THE FUCK UP.

What to do? Do what any self-respecting gold-plated law firm does: ask Judge Ott to impose punishing financial sanctions forcing the Friends pay the Barnes Foundation's legal fees and expenses - and make sure the bill is sizeable enough to provide damage control. In short, kill the messenger of the bad news that the Barnes case was, let's say, deeply flawed.

When Judge Ott issued his Opinion last October, he dismissed the Friends' Petition for lack of legal standing and he also upheld the Barnes Foundation's demand for Sanctions.  He wrote that the Friends did something "santionable" by bringing up the topic of the $107 million taxpayer money for the Barnes project in Philadelphia. Judge Ott offered to hold a hearing on the subject of the sanctions.

Then the Barnes lawyers submitted their bills. These guys do not horse around.  $64,000. In the world of the Barnes Foundation, which has spent tens of millions on lawyers working cases brought by the Barnes, $64,000 is not much, but to the Friends it is. But that's not the point. As Sam Stretton, Esq. explained in his Objections to the Sanctions, there is no legal basis for the sanctions. And Sam also explained why the amount billed by Schnader is outrageous.

So on February 2, Judge Ott held a hearing about it. Things were going along quite nicely with each side calmly setting out their positions. Then Ralph Wellington, Esquire took the stand to be questioned by another Schnader senior partner about the legal fees. While explaining to the Court why the $64,000 was justified, he stunned the Friends in the Courtroom with some news. The $450 an hour for services was a discounted rate and a huge bargain because, after all, the Barnes Foundation is a "charitable" organization. His usual hourly rate is $710 an hour.

Mr. Wellington didn't flinch when talking about his pay scale, but you could hear a collective gasp of amazement from the Friends. And yet, it was a  moment of brilliant illumination.

Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis and its client the Barnes Foundation are in another world! It's the world of privilege and power, status and influence. It's a world for Pews, Annenbergs, Lenfests, and Perelmans; not for people like the Friends.

Whether he meant to or not, Mr. Wellington pegged the Barnes move as an undertaking of, by, and for the 1%.

Here is a link to reporter Cheryl Allison's story on the Court Hearing for Main Line Media News. KYW's Suburban Chief Brad Segall also covered the story.The Philadelphia Inquirer didn't cover  it, though.  The paper's Culture Reporter explained that because Judge Ott hasn't issued his Ruling, there was no "news."  Judge Ott did not say when he will issue his final ruling on the matter.  The Friends plan to appeal.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Plowing Under Progressive Ideals of the Barnes Foundation on the Parkway

photo by Jared Castaldi for Main Line Today

At the Friends of the Barnes Foundation Forum held in June 2006, historian Robert Zaller delivered a charge against Pew Charitable Trusts, the Annenberg and Lenfest Foundations, and others involved in the plan to move the Barnes art collection to Philadelphia.  His message rolled over the fully packed auditorium like thunder: 

 “It is the greatest act of cultural vandalism since World War II…it is our duty to stop it.”

The place was electrified.  Otherwise reserved citizens leapt to their feet and roared back with shouts of approval and applause.  You had to be there!  Actually, you really did have to be there because the newspaper didn’t report on the Forum. It might have been an unprecedented event about the region’s most controversial arts and culture story, but an editor of the Inquirer excused the lack of cverage with “Gee, we can’t cover everything?”  But that’s another story.

You can see an excerpt of the event on YouTube.

But what about Robert Zaller’s bold charge?  For most people, the image of Pew and Company carting works from the Barnes collection is not in the same mental framework as Nazi soldiers hauling away European art treasures. But for others, the image fits.

illustration by Allan Hunter   

But most of us do not understand the Barnes Foundation like Robert Zaller does.  He knows the Barnes on what you could call “a cellular level.”  Others may be more knowledgeable about the art appreciation and horticulture courses, but he has studied its bones, its essential ideas and philosophy as a reflection of American democracy.  And he is not alone in his accusation of vandalism.  University of Virginia Professor of History and Chairman emeritus of the NAACP Julian Bond echoes Robert Zaller, referring to The Philly-stines as “these vandals” in the documentary The Art of the Steal.

Now you can read Robert Zaller’s ideas in an essay in the Fall issue of the literary journal Boulevard.  The writing is brilliant.   Find yourself a copy of the journal at some Barnes & Nobles or Avril 50 (on Sansom near 34th) in Philadelphia and dig in.  Fair warning, though. With the understanding you’ll gain from the essay, the idea of dismantling what Albert Barnes and John Dewey established will likely be as gut wrenching as ever – but more so.  You might feel like spending the afternoon at the boxing gym.

The name of the essay is “Who Speaks for Matisse?: American Philanthropy and the Barnes Foundation.”   You’ll read about the Barnes Foundation, American democratic ideals and the Progressive movement: 

“In a time when many people felt that fine art was a thing for snobs and swells, (Albert) Barnes and (John) Dewey argued, courageously…that it was most of all for those whom Barnes called the ‘toilers,’ their possession and birthright, and the very school of their democracy.”

You’ll read about the Foundation’s art collection as a tool for education and empowerment of everyday citizens, protected (so Albert Barnes thought) from those who might want to exploits its treasures for commercial purposes:

If the value of a commodity lies…in its capacity to be bought, sold, or otherwise marketed, then the monetary value of the Albert Barnes collection was fixed at zero.”  (emphasis added) 

The program Barnes and Dewey developed was to engage people and have them learn to appreciate art by what is in front of their eyes, instead of resting on knowledge of art history or a canned audiophone script.  It was a simple, honest plan, meant to empower through education.  It is, as Robert Zaller wrote,

 “a quintessentially American ideal. It could have sprung from no other soil but ours, and represented no other faith and aspiration but ours.” 

But the Indenture of Trust that was supposed to secure the Foundation as a lasting compact between Albert Barnes and Pennsylvania has so far not prevented political, foundation, and commercial interests from getting their claws into it.  (The lawsuit brought by the Friends to re-open hearings is currently under review by Montgomery County Orphan’s Court Judge Ott.)

But here’s the question: are the American ideals Barnes and Dewey wanted the Foundation to fulfill woven into the fabric of the unique Merion experience or can they moved to a replica of it on the Parkway? We asked Robert Zaller and he explained that the Barnes' vision --its ideals -- and its physical embodiment --the Merion complex -- are one specific thing, an indivisible whole, period.  In short, the Barnes cannot be itself anywhere else.  In his essay, he wrote that that place is to be “regarded – and protected – as hallowed ground” much as Monticello and Gettysburg. Respect for cultural heritage is supposed to be another important American ideal, right?
And another question:  Would those ideals be plowed under at a Barnes museum on the Parkway?  Yes.  The process has already begun.

It’s easy to see it.  For one thing, the motivation for The Move is commerce.  The goal of the decades-long plans of The Philly-stines was to turn the Barnes art collection into an engine for generating tourism dollars for the City of Philadelphia and a feeding trough for the Power Brokers.  (If you have any doubt, see who’s on the Barnes “Corporate Leadership Council”.)   

The Parkway Barnes is not about “more people can see it” but about “more people will spend a lot of money to see it.”  It’s not about education or a unique art experience, but having a goose that lays golden eggs -- or so the Philly-stines imagine.   

Problem is, with the massive building on the Parkway and huge salaries of the executives, the price of admission will have to be one of the highest in the country, estimated between $20 and $25 per person.  Not affordable to people of modest means and obviously, the Progressive ideal of access for working people goes right out the window.  This is especially infuriating because even a tiny fraction of the money being sucked into the Parkway Barnes could provide low cost or even free admission to the Merion galleries.  Before Derek Gillman, the budget in Merion was only about $4.5 million --chump change for even a small group of socially-responsible philanthropists.

But even hefty admission prices make a minor contribution to the operating budgets of museums, so job number one for the Director and Development staff is pulling in donations.  They will try to pimp out the Barnes art collection in the huge and expensive new building, then promote corporate giving via Sponsorships and “The Circles.”  Barnes funding staff and expensive ads gush about “privilege” and “exclusive access” for donors who pony up enough cash to be admitted to the “Director’s Circle” (starting at $10,000) or better yet, the “Chairman’s Circle” ($25,000 and up).  The copy describing “Sponsorships” shows how this type of fundraising is in another universe from the progressive ideals Albert Barnes wanted to foster.
“Sponsoring a Barnes exhibition, program, or special initiative serves as an effective platform to reach your company’s target audience and to achieve strategic marketing and public relations results.” 

Or, the message on the Corporate Council page: 
“The Corporate Council and Circle members at the Patron level and higher enjoy exclusive entertaining privileges at both the Philadelphia and Merion campuses.”  

That is exactly the kind of thing Albert Barnes absolutely hated with a passion!  And if Merion were managed well and supported by a Board committed to the Barnes ideals, the Philly-stine approach to raising funds would not have a place at the table.

But what are true Philly-stines to do?  With a super-sized party house to run on the Parkway, the money’s got to come from somewhere.  So the cultural vandals of Merion become culture pimps on the Parkway, hawking Barnes’ art collection as out-of-this-world eye candy, in the process sucking the soul out of the experience Barnes and Dewey envisioned. 

The vandals would have people believe that this is what Albert Barnes would want.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lifting the Heavy Curtain on the Barnes Foundation Mess: Ethics 101



               Samuel C. Stretton, Esquire.   photo by Philip Lustig March 29, 2011

Judge Stanley Ott invited the participating attorneys to Courtroom B at the  Montgomery County Courthouse on August 1 to explain their positions on the Barnes mess. Judge Ott didn’t call it a mess, but he could have. 

RalphWellington, the impeccably-groomed heavy from the Philadelphia office of Schnader, Harrison, Segal  & Lewis LLP addressed Judge Ott on behalf of the Barnes Foundation. His message was very simple.  We don’t talk fancy like Mr. Wellington, but here’s the gist of what he said:   

These guys (meaning Sam Stretton, Esquire, the Friends of the Barnes Foundation, and others) are full of it and besides, they don’t have a right to bring this action to Court.  With all due respect to Your Honor, they should be shown to the door.  But since we’re here, it might as well be said that Sam Stretton’s claim that there is new evidence of wrongdoing by former Attorney General Mike Fisher is bunk.  Everybody knew about Mike Fisher’s dealings with Lincoln already.  It was, like, you know, the stuff that goes on.  It was even in the newspaper!  So what’s new?  Nothing.

Geeze, you would think at those Schnader prices some new ideas would come up.

The next fancy suit was Deputy Attorney General Lawrence Barth. Larry’s been on this case like forever. The nice thing about Larry is that you always know where he stands because you can’t help but notice where he sits:  as close as possible to the Barnes Foundation lawyers.  We even spotted him at that posh Four Seasons breakfast for the Philly-stines with the project architects. These guys are really tight! 

Okay, but what did Larry say?  To tell you the truth, it was really hard to hear him, but what we got out of it was pretty much the same spiel heard umpteen times already.  The Attorney General had no conflict of interest, bleh, bleh, bleh. The Barnes Foundation was in such terrible financial shape  that the collection was in danger of being scattered to the four corners of the earth.  That being the case (so they claimed), it was in the public’s interest for the Barnes Board to grab the Pew zillions with both hands and hit the road.  

And also remember, we (and the Judge) are just take them at their word  -- don’t even think about asking for the evidence about the financial condition of the Barnes Foundation.

Evidence, did we mention evidence?  Sam Stretton wanted to give Judge Ott a packet of information that shows a very different picture from the one Larry and Ralph presented in the 2003,  2004 hearings. Well, Larry and Ralph were all over Sam’s case in a flash and he was unable to submit the packet.  More on that in a future post.  But first the Oral Arguments. 

Now, Sam.  Sam Stretton is a lawyer’s lawyer and a judge’s lawyer, too.  He’s an authority on Pennsylvania legal and judicial ethics, so he knows a thing or two about what an Attorney General is supposed to do and what is beyond the pale.  If  Sam says that  Mike Fisher’s apparent threatening behavior toward Lincoln University's Board and then not telling the Court about it was “an absolute conflict of interest,” there is every reason to believe it is. Sam told Judge Ott this was "Ethics 101."

Beyond that kind of obvious problem, Sam asked Judge Ott to consider the fundamental role of the Attorney General in a case like this.  Is the AG supposed to be a supervisor?   Or, is the AG supposed to bring the evidence before the Court so that the Judge can assess it and reach a conclusion? Sam also told Judge Ott that there is ample evidence to show that what was presented in earlier hearings misled the Court.

We are hardly objective observers, but Sam Stretton’s arguments and delivery were electrifying. Barth and Wellington’s were more like two dull thuds.  

But styles aside, it’s  the substance of what these lawyers said and their written legal arguments submitted to the Court that will carry this forward – or not. You can read about it in more detail in the “Critical Mass” column in Philadelphia’s City Paper by Clare Foran and  in the Main Line Times by Cheryl Allison.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Gig is Up on the Barnes Foundation Move


However obvious the slinky, slimy maneuvers of the Barnes Movers aka Philly-stines, it's not at all easy to bring the matter before the the court.  But the Friends' lawyer, Samuel C. Stretton, found a way.  In the movie "The Art of the Steal," Sam saw and heard former Pennsylvania Attorney General bragging about how he strong-armed Lincoln University to drop their legal opposition to the Barnes move and - the gig was up!

Sam filed a petition for the Friends of the Barnes Foundation in Court in February of 2011 things progressed from there. On Monday, August 1, he will argue before Judge Ott for the matter to be re-opened.  Incredible story, but true.  That baby (the Barnes art collection) was supposed to be wrapped up and ready to deliver to a Philadelphia address.  But with Sam on the case, those Philly-stines and their crafty ways are about to be shown for what they are.  We're not saying, but you can imagine.

If you can make it to Norristown, do it.   It is going to be something, all right.  Go, Sam!

What:    Oral Arguments to support the Petition of the Friends of the Barnes Foundation, BarnesWatch, and others

Where:  Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown.  The Courthouse entrance on Swede Street is where the Friends will gather.  Handicapped ramps are located on East Airy St.

Where:  Courtroom “B” is on the 2nd floor. Up the big staircase if you enter on Swede Street or take the elevator to 2nd floor and continue past the staircase to Courtroom “B.”

When:  The Friends are gathering at the steps to the Courthouse on Swede Street starting at 12:00.  The proceedings in Court start at 1:30. 

REMEMBER THAT YOU MUST GO THROUGH SECURITY UPON ENTERING THE COURTHOUSE, SO BE SURE TO ALLOW YOURSELF TIME FOR THAT.

Directions to the Courthouse

Here’s a link to a map of downtown Norristown in the vicinity of the Courthouse.