The city controller wants the Philadelphia school district to take its large collection of art out of storage and display it somewhere, which is something a spokesman said the schools are working on.
Meanwhile, the city’s Republican Party leader suggested the cash-strapped district bag the whole idea of exhibiting the collection and just sell it.
Last week, Controller Alan Butkovitz asked School Superintendent William Hite to release from storage some 200 pieces that could be worth up to $4 million.
Many pieces of the district’s art and antiques collection had been removed from city schools during the administration of CEO Paul Vallas in 2003 and 2004 and put into storage at a secret location.
In a letter to Hite on Aug. 27, Butkovitz urged him to display the works he said “have been concealed in a storage facility for the last decade.”
The district’s working on it, according to spokesman Fernando Gallard. In an email to the Northeast Times, Gallard said that, within the last eight months, “the school district has been in conversations with a number of art organizations to identify ways to display and create revenue-generating opportunities. The conversations are still ongoing.”
Gallard did not identify the organizations the district is working with.
Some of the artists in the collection include Walter Elmer Schofield, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Antonio Martino and Laura Wheeler Waring, Butkovitz said. “This collection contains paintings by Philadelphia artists who lived, studied or made a direct impression and provided inspiration to the art community in our city,” said Butkovitz.
The controller estimated the replacement values of the various pieces range from $100 to $385,000.
That’s some real money, the city GOP’s executive director, Joseph DeFelice, said in an Aug. 27 news release, and the school district should be thinking about trading in the high art for hard cash.
“While the display of art in our schools is certainly important, the education of our students should be paramount,” DeFelice wrote. “We are thankful that Controller Butkovitz has found this hidden treasure, however wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the School District of Philadelphia to lease these pieces or even, gasp, sell them?”
DeFelice said the controller should see what the art’s resale value is.
“The thought there is potentially $4 million of untapped assets sitting in garages and storage facilities, while the district is begging for resources, is disappointing,” the GOP leader wrote.
The GOP’s sell suggestion isn’t the first. The School Reform Commission actually was considering it last year, but in October, the idea was scotched.
That was good news to retired Woodrow Wilson Middle School teacher Marilyn Krupnick, who was campaigning for the district’s art to be accounted for and displayed.
In an October 2013 interview, Krupnick said she witnessed Wilson’s paintings being unceremoniously clipped off their wire hangers and bundled away by men who came to the school in an unmarked white van during the 2004 summer break. That was true, Gallard said in October 2013. The idea was to make the paintings secure, he said. “They didn’t want to give anyone the heads-up they were going to do it,” Gallard said.
Butkovitz last week, as he has previously, said he believes items of artwork throughout the district have gone missing, have been deleted from the records without adequate information, have been duplicated in inventory records and some have not been listed in their correct locations.
“While there’s been an overall lack of accountability of the district’s artwork, it’s even more disheartening that many of these great pieces are hidden from the public, behind locked doors,” said Butkovitz.
Butkovitz recommended partnering with city art institutions to display the artwork. He suggested coordinating efforts with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent.
To view the report and the letter addressed to the district regarding the artwork in storage, visit www.philadelphiacontroller.org ••