A Tale of Two Rands
The first Thomas Eakins canvas sold this Philadelphia cultural season brought $68 million. The third, Thomas Jefferson University’s portrait of Eakins’ anatomy professor, Dr. Benjamin H. Rand, brought a reported $20 million. One could surmise that the Pennsylvania Academy’s Cello Player, the second Eakins to go (and arguably a more important work than the departed Dr. Rand) fetched something in between.
If that is the case, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts parlayed the debt from its share of The Gross Clinic into a tidy profit. If that is not the case, The Cello Player fetched a price far lower than its real value. Either way, in 2007, the two institutions that displayed these two paintings for the last 240 (cumulative) years withdrew their paintings from public view, sold them, and refused to share details of this newly active trade in Philadelphia cultural treasure with the public. The public that supports them.
This same season, another RAND – the think tank – issued a study entitled Arts and Culture in the Metropolis: Strategies for Sustainability. It’s authors make the case that Philadelphia’s future depends on aggressive, comprehensive support for its cultural assets. The study favors those parts of the sector with burgeoning growth, at the expense of the others.
“Between 1995 and 2004,” the RAND study tells us, “the number of nonprofit arts organizations in the five-county Pennsylvania portion of the region increased by 91 percent, and gross receipts more than doubled. This growth is manifest in the dynamism of the theater sector; the opening of the Kimmel Center and the Avenue of the Arts . . . the growth of art galleries, community-based arts organizations, and the folk arts.” In other words, part of Philadelphia’s “arts ecology” is healthy and has a future. Then there’s the part that deals with history and heritage, which suffers from “disorganization and fragmentation” and seems on the verge of disaster. Moreover, “collapse of the historical sector may draw funds and attention away from the arts.”
Old, collection-burdened institutions constitute a drain in this vision of a cultural ecology. But they do have assets – assets that can become liquid. In fact, their collections runneth over. If we can conclude anything from this tale of two Rands, it is that the spillage we’ve seen is only the beginning.