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Did Barnes CEO Kimberly Camp Fudge the Truth About the Barnes' Financial Picture?

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One of the supposed reasons for the Barnes move, promulgated by former Foundation CEO Kimberly Camp, was the financial peril the museum was in when it was in Merion. Opponents of the move didn't buy it, and their skepticism partly drove the film The Art of the Steal. Camp, who was CEO until 2005, is now writing a blog in preparation for a book she's publishing about the Barnes. And it was a blog post she wrote recently that's gotten her into some hot water with opponents of the move:

[The Barnes'] circumstance required its relocation. That circumstance was not bankruptcy. I shared that fact with a reporter a few weeks before the opening, and he told me that I had dropped his jaw. Bankruptcy was not the reason we filed the petition to move the Foundation to the city. At the time the petition was filed, the Barnes Foundation had a cash surplus and we had no debt - none. But, saying so made the rescue so much more gallant. Needless to say, this revelation hasn't gone over well, especially looking back at Camp's prior declarations. In 2000, she was insistent about the museum's financial straits.

That year she told the Inquirer's Patrick Kerkstra that the situation was grave. From Kerkstra's article:

The Barnes Foundation, guardian of one of the world's most spectacular collections of impressionist art, has exhausted its $10 million endowment and is seeking emergency relief to stay open. Foundation leaders - who are making urgent appeals to corporations, individuals and foundations - remain optimistic. But executive director Kimberly Camp said the situation is "critical," and estimated that without donations, the Barnes would be unable to meet payroll and other basic expenses in six months to a year. .... Camp would not discuss what the foundation would do if it did not receive help soon, saying only that "drastic measures" would be taken.

Did she know then that a drastic measure might be a move to Center City? We don't know.

In 2003, the Inquirer presented a timeline of Barnes developments:

July 1999: Kimberly Camp, new executive director, says the Barnes has about $2 million left from its original $10 million endowment. September 2000: The Barnes seeks emergency donations to remain afloat and says it will need $85 million to survive in the long term.

September 2002: Saying bankruptcy is imminent, the Barnes - backed by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Lenfest and Annenberg Foundations - proposes drastically rewriting its bylaws and moving to Center City. Lincoln University objects because its role in governing the Barnes would be reduced. A court case ensues.

According to the Ardmore Patch, the Friends of the Barnes presented a transcript from 2003 in which Camp said: "We have no money. ... Endowments are for organizations that are wealthy. We’re not wealthy. We don’t have any money. My goal is to raise money so I can pay the utility bill next month.”

In 2004, an Inquirer article by Patricia Horn read:

The foundation, pleading that bankruptcy was imminent, petitioned the court in September 2002 for permission to break the will of its founder, Albert C. Barnes, so it could move the art to Center City as well as broaden fund-raising possibilities by expanding its board from five to 15 members. The contradictions between those media reports and what Camp wrote on her blog recently have floored the opponents. From Joseph DiStefano's coverage yesterday:

"This new information is shocking, where the [former] president and CEO of the Barnes Foundation admits that everything that was said during the trial about not having enough money was false," thundered anti-move Friends of the Barnes lawyer Samuel Stretton, in a letter to Superior Court that was released by Friends leader Evelyn Yaari. Eveylyn Yaari told the Patch: "The only surprising thing is that she wrote it on a blog. The actual fact that it was not bankrupt has been known for some time: we’ve been saying for years that it was not bankruptcy."

But were they outright lies? Camp clarified her comments to DiStefano yesterday:

"We never said we were 'bankrupt.' "Newspapers did.

"I don’t lie. Not wired for it."

She's talking about articles, starting with this 2000 news story in which the Inquirer repeated claims the Barnes was running out of money. "It was true in 2000, but it wasn't true in 2002," Camp told me.

The author of the 2000 article, Patrick Kerkstra, says now: "If Camp was lying about the foundation's financial position in 2000, she was very convincing. The 990s I looked at corroborated what she was saying as well. But I have no problem whatsoever believing that their position had stabilized by 2002 (when I'd largely stopped covering the Barnes). Nor am I particularly surprised to hear that they considered it in their interest to let journalists continue to report that the crisis was ongoing. You can manage big things in a crisis - even a manufactured one - that you can't pull off in normal times. The move to Philadelphia sure qualifies as a big thing."

So what now? Does it matter if Camp fudged the truth to make the story more dramatic? It matters to Sam Stretton, lawyer for the Friends. He's asked Judge Stanley Ott, who's been with the case since the beginning, to hold a hearing. One thing we do know for sure: With this news, Judge Ott just wants to climb back into bed and go to sleep.
· Barnes ex-boss: 'We never said we were "bankrupt." Newspapers did.' [Inquirer]
· Nearly Broke, The Barnes Foundation Calls For Help Litigation And Rising Costs Drained The Coffers Of The Merion Art Collection. Now It Needs Millions To Survive [Inquirer]
· Valuation of Barnes art and property still awaited by court When it will appear is "in their hands," the judge said. An approved expansion of the foundation's board is still pending [Inquirer]
· Barnes was in chaos, audit shows The foundation's former leader called the report a witch-hunt against him [Inquirer]
· Some Thoughts on the New Barnes Foundation [Kimberly Camp's Blog]

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