When the Pew Charitable Trusts decided to provide some funding for the Barnes Foundation in 2000, Marian A. Godfrey, then director of cultural programs, called the singular Merion institution "very worthy of investment."
At the time, the foundation was pushing to pump up its depleted endowment, cut its deficit, fund its ongoing operations, and initiate some expensive projects.
Pew may have found the Barnes worthy of a $500,000 grant, but the money went directly to the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles for administration. Pew was seeking to "engage their expertise" in a cooperative effort, Godfrey blandly said.
In fact, Pew, as a matter of policy, did not fund organizations with deficits. The giant philanthropy, steered by president and chief executive Rebecca W. Rimel, aggressively pursued plans to fund solvent groups with prospects and potential impact.
Even so, the Barnes proved tempting in many ways.
For one thing, Pew was seeking to build up the city's cultural infrastructure and was already working with the Annenberg Foundation in a makeover of Independence National Historical Park.
At the same time, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was being discussed as the possible location for a new Alexander Calder Museum. The Parkway had potential impact written all over it.
So when Bernard Watson, former head of the William Penn Foundation and current president of the Barnes Foundation, called on Rimel in 2001, the notion of a Barnes on the Parkway seemed, as former Mayor Ed Rendell once put it, "a no-brainer."
Problem was, the Barnes was governed by a strict trust indenture drawn up by founder Albert C. Barnes, which barred a move. Ultimately, Pew and the Annenberg and Lenfest foundations decided to work together to bring it to the city. They agreed to fund the Barnes' legal costs. They provided short-term operating support amounting to several million dollars. But they refused to fund the cash-strapped Barnes in Merion.
The proposed move and attendant Barnes management changes, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest said in 2002, were "very critical" for the attraction of "financial support" for the Barnes. This is true, he said, "not only from our foundation but from other potential donors."
No move, no money.
Rimel painted Pew's vision in 2003 when she wrote in The Inquirer that Philadelphia's "renaissance has begun . . . ." She urged residents "to rally" behind cultural-development plans, largely backed by her philanthropy. "The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is becoming our own magnificent Museum Mile, with a collection of world-class museums that rival those in New York and Paris," she wrote. "Philadelphia can be a 'destination city,' a 'world capital of culture.' "
The Barnes' apparent Merion money problems sealed the deal in court in 2004.
In a recent e-mail, Rimel wrote that Pew and its "donor partners believe that art in the public domain should be widely accessible to all."