Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Saginaw Art Museum closed and facing unknown future

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 d├ęcor, 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.



  2. Anonymous, not very helpful why dont you atate what the DIA has done, are you talking about the recent vote on the DIA?


  3. It seems that the museum board made a grave error in initiating and mortgaging the building expansion. Are the board members to be held financially responsible for this fiasco?

  4. Hmmm get Sheila back, she started this, let her finish it. Of course a "huge" room, that is mostly glass is going to use energy summer or winter.

  5. She was an employee, not a board member. The board members voted for the expansion, and should write checks to cover the outcome of their actions.

  6. Sharril McNally is and has been the demise of the Saginaw Art Museum. She has run it into the ground on pure ego, lack of business knowledge, and vengence. The museum's future lies in the hands of the membership, not the board.

    1. The board members, if the museum's bylaws are like those of other non-profits, are the entity with legal authority to act. For better or worse.

  7. It seems like McNally had better discuss the "hornet's nest" issues publicly, before expecting the citizenry to support the museum financially.

    1. from janet -- I made the decision not to post them. they are not key to the story at hand...the expenses this facility faces are.

  8. The museuem is able to sustain itself when it is run properly. The current board has not written any grants, has not sent out membership renewals, or set up any programming to get grants let alone bring people to the SAM. The current Board of Directors needs to step down and let the museum be run by people who know what they are doing. Run it like a real business.

    1. With such bold accusations and apparent first-hand knowledge, why the Anonymous identity?

  9. please people.....this is from the writer of the story, janet martineau -- do not let this story and your ability to post without saying your name turn this into nothing but nasty comments like the ones above. I may, in fact, start deleting them or the story itself. the saginaw art museum is the issue here. the lack of saginaw people supporting it is the issue. DO NOT START ATTACKING THE PEOPLE WHO ARE AT LEAST TRYING TO DO SOMETHING THERE FOR THE GOOD OF THE COMMUNITY.

  10. this is from artist cinda schantz, who could not get her comment to post and sent me (janet martineau) it in a emial for me to post.

    The Saginaw Art Museum Board has needed to reach out to local, state and national organizations. Leadership training for the arts boards and their staffs has always been available and should be a requirement. Board members need to know and fully accept their commission.
    Mission statements and their vision statements should be reviewed annually and revised every five years to make sure the organization is keeping true to its responsibility and relevance to its community.
    Despite the magnificence of the SAM’s new additions and the wish of a newfound mid-Michigan presence, it was not a “Field of Dreams”-if you build it they will come scenario. Participation takes both long and short term planning. It has been a sad and painful descent to watch.
    Those of us who artists, educators, art lovers, members and supporters would love to help solve this problem.
    Have a Town Hall meeting, with a trained vacillator, advertise it with a press release, and ask us.
    Please contact the following:
    Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, (517) 241-4011.
    ArtServe MI, Clover Court, Wixom, MI 48393, (248) 912-0764.
    The National Endowment for the Arts1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20506, 
    American Association of Museums 1575 Eye Street, NW #400
Washington, DC 20005 phone: 202-289-1818
fax: 202-289-6578

    1. This is the most informative and accurate comment yet. Thank you Janet for posting! She knows what she is talking about.

  11. SAM bylaws protect the museum from bad board decisions by membership votes and control. The Board of Directors are not able to make critical descisions like this without knowledge to the people.

  12. As a long time supporter of the Saginaw Art Museum, I applaud Sharrill McNally's leadership. They have been struggling for so long, and were so short for help, with inadequate volunteers and money. Something needed to be done, and Sharrill and her board have shown the courage to make a change. Time will tell as to what the direction the community chooses to take. I wish nothing but the best for the Saginaw Art Museum.

  13. You can't blame Sharrill McNally. She has only been president for less than a year and has been trying to fix the mistakes of others. You really want to put the blame on someone, then blame the President that added that $6,000,000 addition to the art museum, because that is when it all started. In all honesty......Instead of complaining why not try to help in the solution if you are so worried about the art museum? Give some moeny, donate time, or anything else. Don't be a problem, be a solution. Stop blaming people that are trying to actually help it out. God you people piss me off. Sit there and complain, yet don't want to get up from the couch to do anything. Sorry, but you dont get that right!

  14. To the anonymous person who blames Sharril. You should watch waht you say because karma can bite you. She has done nothing but try in vain for the last 10 months to bring the books up to date, cut costs, and make the Saginaw Art Museum a viable entity again. She loves the museum greatly and would rather not go down the road that has been brought upon her and the board. The real problem was the mismanagement and lack of long term planning by the people in charge back in the early 2000's. It was a great idea to expand but the funding was never fully set in place. There was little thought in the operating costs of the facility and where the funding would come from the pay for them. This i sad news for the community but I applaud her efforts.

  15. Disturbing news, indeed.

    I recently read the Mission Statement/Business Plan and reviewed the Financials. Although the situation is dire, and advice is always easy to give, before decisions with long-term impact are made a re-review of the Mission might be in order.

    There is no intent on my part to be critical -- and the pressing circumstances have caused 'need' to command attention -- but the tone of the Mission, from my read, seemed mostly self-directed (e.g., What does the museum need?) rather than outward-directed (e.g., What does the community need and want from the museum?) It is impossible to make a decision with respect to the property until it is clear what the community needs and wants. If the community principally wants the 'art collection', then the facility is, perhaps, of secondary importance. However, if the community desires a Point Of Focus or Ground Zero for things artistic -- an organiztion that works with other museums, the Symphony, the theater, the artist community, local architects, galleries, households and businesses -- the answer could be quite different.

    Again, it is easy for me to state, but I believe the truth is that funding will follow as the program is built. The Art Museum could be:
    * A directory and archive of all public art wherever located in the City/County * The pulse of a local Art Walk or Art Festival or Film Festival * A lecture forum for our local educators for all subjects artistic, perhaps coordinated with our symphony, theater, etc. * Overseer of such projects as 'lighting the steeples', flowering the street corners or bridges, ringing the bells * A planning resrouce for such events as the Lawn Chair Film, the Antique Car Show, etc. * A training and activity center for painting, drawing, sketching, collaging, card-making, gift wrapping, wedding planning, gardening, food preparation or presentation and many activities * A catalyst for community improvement via training/contests in gardening, painting or restoring our historic buildings and homes * Catalyst for neon art, tattoo art, architecture, preservation * A welcome center and resource center for all of our local art instructors in schools, colleges, and universities * A travel/coordination center for Art Tours to other Museums * And Much More

    Although time is of the essence, if time can be 'bought', somehow, I suggest that Board Members and friends begin by immediately visiting community art museums serving small cities. Which ones 'work' and why? Which don't seem to 'work' and why? If S.A.M. could be any one of the successful ones, what appears to be the shortest path? What are other possible paths? What advice can be procured from the overseers of the more successful museums?

    David Strouse

  16. For two yrs. very few pieces of the permanent collection were exhibited. Art 4 for All was a great program. It seemed "they" changed the purpose of the museum. Events of course bring revenue. SAM was ignored as a fine art museum and art education was not part of the core of SAM. SAM is a public museum...not exclusive to the elite.

    Dear Directors
    Use exhibit that huge magnificent permanent collection and have a benefit to save the museum. I will volunteer.
    I am an art educator/artist and participated in numerous programs at SAM. I am saddened.

  17. This is a sad and scary time for them, and for all who tried so hard to prevent it happening, long ago.

  18. I pondered to myself recently what were the most important things in my life. The answer seems to be clear that art was up there in importance. Why? Frankly, I don't really know. May be someone here can enlighten me?
    As was my wont w
    hen I have some free time, I browsed the marvelous site, wahooart.com, where they keep thousands of digital images for customers to select to have printed into handsome canvas prints for their homes.
    This image jumped out to jolt my reveries: Still life with bread, by the Cubist Georges Braque. Is art like this picture, as essential as bread and water, or should I say bread and wine?

  19. Sell the building and the collection to pay the loans and then let the crack heads move in. Saginaw is dead.