11/26/2012 03:21 pm ET Updated Nov 27, 2012

Kansas City Art Institute Sues Couple Over Unfulfilled $5 Million Pledge

Larry and Kristina Dodge, a couple of art patrons living in Southern California, learned the hard way what happens when you make a promise you can't keep.

The Dodges are facing a lawsuit filed by the Kansas City Art Institute over an unfulfilled $5 million donation pledge made by the couple in 2005, Matt Campbell reports at The Kansas City Star. The philanthropic duo has so far paid only $1 million of the initial donation, and, citing severe financial hardship, has made it clear that they have no means of paying the outstanding balance.

The stoppage of payments has put the Art Institute in a bit of bind, as the Dodge's donation was supposed to partially fund the construction of a $7 million Painting Building on the school's campus, which has already been built and emblazoned with the Dodges' names. KCAI is demanding the couple uphold their promise, backed by a California Superior Court judge who ordered the Dodges to fulfill the pledge in total this year.

"KCAI built a building based on a contract that the college had with the Dodges, and we still expect them to live up to the contract," the institute explained to The Star. "That’s why we’re leaving the name on the building."

The Dodges are due back in court on December 13th for a debtor examination hearing, but it's not yet clear whether the Midwest art haven will ever actually see the money. The once multi-millionaires stated to The Star that they lost nearly everything as a result of the past years' recession, claiming that they even struggle for child care for their two-year-old triplets. According to the Dodges, KCAI's lawsuit will likely bankrupt the family.

"This is an organization that is ruthless," Kristina Dodge told The Star, sobbing. "Completely ruthless and heartless."

This legal entanglement between art house and patron highlights the murky territory surrounding institutional donations. Last year, the Dallas Museum of Art also found themselves in a lawsuit with donors, though this time the tables had turned. The son of a wealthy patron sued the museum, claiming ownership of a previously donated art collection worth $400 million.

So what do you think, readers? Is KCAI entitled to its $5 million or should the Dodges be let off the hook in lieu of their financial woes? Let us know your take in the comments section.

For a lighter look at the world of Art Institutes, check out our Art School Survival Guide in the slideshow below.

Art School Survival Guide