07/23/2012 05:23 pm ET

Memphis College Of Art Sells Art Collection To Ease Financial Strains

Schools in a budget crunch are cutting all sorts of corners. Exhibit A: the Memphis College of Art in Tennessee is even selling its art.

After declaring a financial emergency in May, MCA president Ron Jones announced that the college will sell most of its 550-piece art collection in addition to laying off four professors.

"We're not a museum," Jones said. "And if I took you on a tour, you would be shocked at the condition of many of these pieces. As we started looking at the budget, one of the logical steps was 'sell it.' Why should we have 550 pieces of art by people from the past when we have faculty and students who are artists, and there's a need to raise revenue?"

The collected artwork comes mostly from donations by faculty members, benefactors or local artists. However, the college has pledged to keep some of its more sentimental works, such as those produced by former faculty members Burton Callicott, Ted Faiers and Veda Reed.

Jones claims the cuts were necessary in order to avoid "a train wreck."

He has since cut university spending 28 percent, and said they started July 1 with a balanced budget.

Jones has explained the cuts will not interfere with "the core purpose of the college" -- students' educations.

Other colleges and universities have had to consider selling their art collections to stay afloat financially.

Fisk University said in 2010 the only asset of real value left that it could sell was the Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Modern American and European Art. NPR says it's a $74 million trove of early modernist masterpieces donated by Georgia O'Keeffe 60 years ago. Brandeis University narrowly decided against selling off the collections in its Rose Art Museum.

These debates over a higher education insitution selling off its art don't come without political controversy too.

Republicans in the Iowa House introduced a bill in 2011 attempting force the University of Iowa to sell a Jackson Pollock painting the school received as a gift in 1951 and use the money for scholarships. It was their second attempt to pass such a bill, and though the bill was withdrawn, the incident incited considerable backlash.



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