|The Saginaw Art Museum as seen from the back and its gardens|
story and photo by Janet I. Martineau
Closed and for sale.
Those dreaded four words have plagued numerous businesses in Saginaw with the current nationwide economic downturn.
Now they may (MAY) claim one of its cultural gems -- the Saginaw Art Museum, 1126 N. Michigan.
“We’re caught in what I call a perfect storm,” says Sharill McNally, who became the board president last October. By this October, the historic structure which added two wings in 2002 will remain closed, as it now, and possibly even up for sale.
“We still want to be an entity in the town, just maybe in a different place, a smaller place,” says McNally, an associate with TSSF Architects Inc. of Saginaw. “The building is a drag and we want to sell it or rent it, lease it. We’ve already closed the doors due to our financial status, laid off all the staff except for our director, and in the next couple of months we are evaluating and looking at our options.
“I want to stress we are open to ideas, innovative ideas, on how to deal with this problem.” Now is the time, she says, for the community to step up to the plate if it sees the importance of an art museum in its midst.
That perfect storm leading to the closed doors?
Maintaing a stable board, paperwork not filed in time to apply for some grants, electric bills so high (upwards of $10,000 a month in the summer) and behind in payments that Consumers has sometimes cut off the power, an air conditioning unit that is kaput and has a projected $80,000 repair bill, a boiler needing upwards of $60,000 in maintenance and repairs, a leaking roof, money borrowed against an endowment, mortgage payments still due to the bank from its addition construction .. and the list goes on with some “hornet’s nest” issues McNally is not at liberty to discuss.
Close off the expansive windows, the board has been advised. Put in more refined zoned heating and cooling. But, McNally points out, that costs money; “money we do not have.”
“We are in a $4 million home we cannot afford,” says McNally, “especially in a community that is downsizing, endowments being hit (by the struggling economy), donations to us lagging.”
McNally says the museum needs $20,000 a month, “and that is the bare minimum,” to stay open; or $250,000 to $400,000 a year to really do the job right. Currently the endowment, she said fetches only $60,000 to $80,000 of that.
She had hoped, in her presidency, to gradually build a sustainability with unusual programs and exhibits that would appeal to a wider audience, but time ran out with the overwhelming operational issues (which grants in general do not fund). McNally has a long history of community and board involvement.
One thing the board wants to preserve at all costs its the museum’s permanent collection, valued as high as the building itself. “We may have to sell it but that is a terrible road to go down. We are in talks with a couple of entities where we would be under their umbrella and retain control of the collection. Our goal is to save the collection; find a new location for it somewhere in Saginaw.”
|One of its permanent collection pieces|
The museum holds a collection of art and artifacts in excess of 2,500 pieces, spanning 4,500 years of art history -- and which require a consistent heating and cooling atmosphere. The oldest works in the collection include Etruscan artifacts and ceramics from Indonesia and the ancient Near East.
American and European pieces comprise the majority of the collection -- decorative arts, drawings, manuscripts, paintings, prints, sculpture and textiles from the 15th through 20th centuries. It also owns Asian, African, native American and Mexican folk art.
The museum also houses one of the major art reference libraries in the Great Lakes Bay Region -- more than 1,200 books, catalogues, and periodicals dealing with American, European, and Asian painting and sculpture; furniture and decorative arts; costume and textiles; prints, drawings, and photographs; and modern and contemporary art.
A selection of subjects includes antiquities, architecture, art appreciation and criticism, art history and movements, arts and crafts, design and décor, drawing, graphic design, monographs, museum collections, oriental art, photography, sacred art, sculpture, and art from cultures and regions throughout the United States and the world.
The museum has a long history of financial struggles and has played brinksmanship many times. But, says McNally, “we can’t keep kicking it down the road.”
The two-story center section of the complex was built in 1903 as a family home for lumber baron Clark Lombard Ring. It and its formal garden out back were designed by renowned New York City architect Charles Adams Platt in a Georgian Revival style.
In 1946, Ring’s two grown daughters purchased the home and donated it to the citizens of Saginaw for use as a museum. One of the daughters even donated money, artwork and leadership to the fledgling museum until her death in 1957.
In 1948, it opened it doors as the Saginaw Museum, housing both art and historical artifacts. When the Historical Society of Saginaw established the History Museum in 1967, the Saginaw Museum deaccessioned its historical items to them. Henceforth, the Saginaw Museum was called the Saginaw Art Museum.
Cramped for space as the years progressed, in 2000 the museum began an Art for All campaign to raise $7 million for the addition of an educational wing on the left side of the Ring Mansion and a large exhibition wing on the right side. At the same time a donor provided a $2 million endowment.
Both wings were downscaled in scope from plans when the Art for All campaign lagged and were built despite the fact the full funding for them was not raised, thus the remaining mortgage payments.
Should the Saginaw Art Museum indeed close, it would leave the Great Lakes Bay region devoid of what is considered a true art museum and one focused on fine art.