Northeast Times

City controller wants school district art out of storage

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 ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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