University's proposed $68 million sale of the Thomas Eakins painting
to a Walmart heiress was trumped by a local effort that will result in
the work being displayed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
I'm conflicted. On the one hand, more people will see the work, it's
quintessentially Philadelphian and so it's good it's staying here, and
the small and big contributions are a huge demonstration of the power
of art to bring people together.
On the other hand, Jefferson University is being unfairly vilified for
selling a local treasure - they're a hospital, not an art gallery, and
they need the money to do a better job at being a hospital. And shame
on so many locals who got uppity about Thomas Eakins and Gross Clinic
when most of us have never taken the time to see the Gross Clinic
painting or donated any money to keep the Thomas Eakins House afloat.
Finally, a lot of local foundations ponied up a lot of money to keep
the painting here, money that could've gone to other local causes
while we "imported" $68 million of new money from outside the region.
In other words, someone outside the region valued the work at $68
million and was willing to exchange that amount of money for the
painting; we as a region responded by matching that amount, thus
simultaneously refusing that infusion of cash and putting to the side
that same amount for the purpose of retaining that painting.
Maybe all this good feeling about rescuing a local treasure, when
combined with the increased economic activity that is generated by
people visiting the Art Museum to see the work, will end up producing
more than the equivalent of an immediate $68 million inflow to the
city. Because it would be a shame if, after turning down that inflow,
we then promptly forgot about the work and gave it the same amount of
brain space as it had before this whole thing started.