Are Your Last Wishes Worth Anything

Collectors and artists donating their collections to non profits who have promised to honor their last wishes would not always be pleased with what really happened. You remember the Barnes Foundation... a "2004 court ruling permitted the foundation, which has struggled financially, to contravene the wishes of Albert C. Barnes, who built the collection and stipulated that no picture in it could be lent, sold or moved from the walls of the galleries that he built for it in Merion. Judge Stanley R. Ott of the Montgomery County Orphans’ Court said in the ruling that he considered the move “the only viable alternative” to save the Barnes from bankruptcy. But opponents — a couple dozen of whom protested Friday morning outside the groundbreaking ceremony — contend that the collection’s financial troubles are surmountable and that the move is motivated primarily by the Philadelphia political establishment’s desire to generate more downtown tourism. “This is not about art — it’s about politics,” said Evelyn Yaari, a member of Friends of the Barnes Foundation, which organized the protest, waving signs with messages like: “Crime Scene. Do Not Enter. Destruction of National Historic Landmark in Progress.”

Or maybe you recall the wishes of George Gustav Heye and what he envisioned for his collection of 1 million objects. "The National Museum of the American Indian is home to the collection of the former Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation. The collection includes more than 800,000 objects, as well as a photographic archive of 125,000 images. The collection, which became part of the Smithsonian in June 1990, was assembled by George Gustav Heye (1874–1957) during a 54-year period, beginning in 1903. He traveled throughout North and South America collecting Native objects. Heye used his collection to found New York’s Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation and directed it until his death in 1957. The Heye Foundation’s Museum of the American Indian opened to the public in New York City in 1922."

"In order to remove the collection, the museum - formally known as Museum of the American Indian-Heye Foundation - must have the approval of the New York State Attorney General. George Gustav Heye obligated the original trustees ''and their successors'' to ''maintain the museum within this state.'' The present trustees have indicated that judges may rewrite trust priorities if that is necessary to protect the trust's most important obligations - the preservation of the collection. Still, as native Americans we have a very personal interest in seeing that the original agreements are honored..." ROSEMARY RICHMOND Executive Director American Indian Community House New York, May 22, 1987

You would think that some consideration of what the original benefactor would want might hold some water. Now, in the case of the Heye Foundation material, we have a token presence in New York, a very small group of objects on display at the National Museum of American Indian on the Mall, and the bulk of the objects instorage in Maryland accessible only by appointment and permission. The majority of the non-indian community interested in the rich tradition of native americans hate the fact that this beautiful building pretends to be a museum. It is in every way a cultural center, which any rationale person would agree that the native american community deserves. This really isn't the point. The point is that Heye certainly envisioned both indian and non-indian people learning from what he collected. That trust has been betrayed.

Judge Rejects Fisk Deal to Sell Georgia O'Keeffe Share

NASHVILLE (AP).- A Nashville judge has rejected Fisk University's proposal to sell a joint share in a 101-piece collection donated by late artist Georgia O'Keeffe to an Arkansas museum. Fisk argued that its precarious financial state prevents the historically black university from maintaining and displaying the collection. Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle agreed Friday that the cash-strapped school is unable to exhibit the collection. But Lyle said the Fisk proposal to sell a 50 percent stake in the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark., for $30 million does not meet the terms of the donation O'Keeffe made to the school in 1949. Lyle ordered the state attorney general to offer a "Nashville-based solution" ... More

Here again a bequest was made based on a set of permanent conditions. Considering the history of over turning the wishes of our generous dead patrons, I would bet here that the Walmart money behind Crystal Bridges will also prevail.

It might give you some basis for considering carefully your last wishes.