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Sensible Solutions for the Barnes Foundation

"It has a splendour that one can't imagine unless one sees it -- because both the whole ceiling and its arched vaults come alive through radiation and the main effect continues right down to the floor...I am profoundly tired but very pleased. When I saw the canvas put in place, it was detached from me and became part of the building…“

Henri Matisse from a letter to his son, Pierre Matisse, April 24, 1933 on the installation of La Danse at The Barnes Foundation. (Jack Flam, Matisse: La Danse)

There is simply no place like the Barnes Foundation and its preservation is the sole mission of Friends of the Barnes Foundation. 

Knowing how important this preservation project is, citizens, artists, writers, public officials, and others have put forward ideas to help achieve this goal.  The following Friends of the Barnes Foundation proposal ensures permanent preservation of the Barnes with respect for the institution, the surrounding community, and the public. 

Here are the basic points in the Friends of the Barnes Foundation proposal:

•   Run a convenient, permanent shuttle from a central location in Philadelphia to the Barnes Foundation in Merion.  It is but five miles and about twelve minutes drive each way.

•   Increase admission on public days to 450 per day.

•   Increase public days to four days a week during the school year.

•   Increase public days to seven per week for the 13-weeks that the Barnes Foundation’s schools are closed in June, July, and August.

•   End the current practice of subtracting visits by school children from the permitted public total visitation.  Instead, admit up to 100 schoolchildren daily beyond the permitted total public visitation.

•   Increase admission from $10 to $12.

•   The increase in the number of paying visitors per year from 62,300 to 146,250, the modest increase in admission fees, and the resulting increase in parking and gift shop revenues will generate approximately $1.68 million in additional revenue per year.  (According to testimony given in court in 2004, the Barnes Foundation in Merion has an annual deficit of $1.2 million.)

Public Officials Work Together to Preserve the Barnes Foundation
In August 2007, three initiatives were announced that contribute to a secure future for the Barnes:

•   The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners has proposed a $50 million lease-back plan that would provide an endowment and resulting income to the Barnes Foundation without expense to taxpayers.  This plan stands in contrast to the secret appropriation of $107 million in public funding to move the Barnes art collection from Merion to Philadelphia contained in S.B. 1213, the capital budget bill passed in 2002.

•   The Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners unanimously passed an Ordinance that permits attendance to the Barnes Foundation to rise from 62,000 visitors per year to 144,000.  The increase in the number of paying visitors per year from 62,300 to 146,250, the modest increase in admission fees, and the resulting increase in parking and gift shop revenues will generate approximately $1.68 million in additional revenue per year. 

•   The National Parks Service has sent an encouraging response to a Preliminary Assessment of eligibility for national historic landmark status for the Barnes Foundation, in its entirety.  In a letter to Friends of the Barnes Foundation, the program chief stated that the agency would be pleased to review an application from the Barnes Foundation for this highly esteemed designation.  Friends of the Barnes Foundation has informed Barnes Board Chair, Bernard Watson, of this promising development and offered financial support from Friends of the Barnes Foundation for the application process. Should a Barnes Foundation application be accepted, National Historic Landmark status would hold significant potential for additional funds to support the Barnes Foundation in Merion. 


Artists and Writers Bring Creative Ideas For Preserving the Barnes

•   In a September 21 post to a blog on the arts, Philadelphia Inquirer Music Critic Peter Dobrin described his sensible solution for the Barnes.  His plan calls for redeployment of the $150 million raised for the move, to create an endowment and construct a first-rate Barnes interpretative center on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and run a shuttle service between it and the Barnes Foundation.

•   In February 28, 2007, artist Nancy Herman wrote an op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer, entitled, Keep the Barnes and Build Another.”  In it, Nancy describes a facility on the Parkway that both educates visitors about Albert Barnes’ methodology and exhibits contemporary art and fine craft. 

•   On March 26, 2007, Sandy Bressler’s ideas for the Barnes were published in a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Philadelphia Needs to Capitalize on Barnes”:
Many intriguing ideas were raised in "Keep the Barnes and build another". Are there ways to respect the uniqueness of the Barnes Foundation in Merion and link it to the tourism goals of Philadelphia? Can we explore options for the Barnes and for Philadelphia that would offer more for both, rather than less?
Here are some additional ideas:

•   How about a Barnes visitor center on the Parkway that would include an outdoor café, restaurant and gift shop, and would be the place the Pew/Annenberg/Lenfest shuttle bus leaves to visit the Merion site?

•   Use avant-garde exhibition techniques to re-create some of the Merion galleries in Center City, introduce the philosophy and aesthetic approach of the Barnes Foundation, and present its fascinating history.

•   How about incorporating the holdings of Ker-Feal into the visitor center? This extraordinary collection amassed by Albert C. Barnes is unseen by the public, is not included in Barnes' indenture, and could serve as an introduction to the artistic and horticultural offerings in Merion.

•   Let's act like the next great city we want to become. A great city preserves and celebrates its regional cultural heritage. No longer do great cities rape and pillage the cultural holdings of their neighbors.

Sandy Bressler
Philadelphia, PA

Write: 7615 St. Martin’s Lane
            Philadelphia, PA  19118

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