Museums Wrestle with Aging Legacies of Donor Rules

Museums are increasingly grappling with donor-intent issues as changing tastes, new technology, and the lingering financial squeeze lead institutions to reassess works acquired and stipulations set by philanthropists decades ago, according to The New York Times.

The article cites several recent, high-profile donor-intent controversies, such as the relocation of Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation and Fisk University’s court fight to sell a stake in a trove donated by the painter Georgia O’Keeffe. It also notes criticism of foundations, launched decades ago by wealthy moguls, for embracing causes seemingly at odds with their founders’ conservative politics.

“I’m certainly getting more phone calls” about donor intent, said Jeffrey Cain of consulting firm American Philanthropic. He said the issue has “captured the attention of conservative-minded donors, especially those giving gifts to the academy who worry about how those gifts would be managed over time.”

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