The Fiscal Dilemma Facing Fisk University

For the past two years Fisk University, the historically black educational institution in Nashville, has been embroiled in legal action over its efforts to raise money by selling artwork that had been donated to the university by Georgia O’Keeffe. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has sought to block any sale on the grounds that breaking up the collection was strictly forbidden in O’Keeffe’s original bequest to the school. The museum agreed to buy one O’Keeffe painting and to allow Fisk to sell another on the open market. This deal was voided by the Tennessee Chancery Court. Then the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art proposed to give $30 million to Fisk in return for having the collection displayed in Little Rock for six months of every year. The O’Keeffe museum objects to this plan because it believes it violates Fisk’s original agreement with the artist.

The courts have put off until February any further consideration of a proposed sale. However, Fisk finds itself in a tough spot because it will run out of operating cash on December 15. Fisk has raided its endowment in the past to supplement operating expenses but the remaining funds in its small $14.7 million fund are restricted.