The Tennessee State Museum houses nearly 200 works of art owned by a member of the State Museum Commission, which oversees the museum, reports WTVF.
The arrangement has raised concerns from another commission member about whether taxpayers are paying to store privately owned art — despite limited space and staff at the museum.
Commissioner Walter Knestrick is a longtime collector of the works of Tennessee artist Red Grooms. Many of the Grooms paintings that he owns are located at the Tennessee State Museum.
“Taxpayers should not pay for the storage for paintings which are privately held and no date for a final donation has been determined,” Commissioner Victor Ashe told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
But the longtime executive director of the Tennessee State Museum, Lois Riggins-Ezzell, passionately defended the arrangement.
Riggins-Ezzell disputed criticism from Ashe, but was occasionally told to watch her comments by the museum’s media relations person who sat in on the interview.
“There’s no bad use of public money,” Riggins-Ezzell insisted. “There’s no bad use of manipulating a system to help an old rich man.”
…Victor Ashe told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, “Taxpayers should not pay for the staff time to select and package privately owned items out of state.”
Riggins-Ezzell responded, “I certainly have great respect for the concerns Mr. Ashe may have. We simply are seldom on the same page.”
…Riggins-Ezell said the museum is fortunate that Knestrick loaned the art to the museum and is now in talks to gift them.
“What a gift this is for the citizens of Tennessee. Who would want for the citizens of Tennessee not to have this in perpetuity?”” Riggins-Ezzell asked.
But currently there is no written agreement between Knestrick and the state for him to donate the paintings.
Until that time, Ashe said, its wrong they are stored, insured and displayed at museum expense.
Riggins-Ezzell said the paintings don’t cost the state more to insure because it has a blanket policy.
She said Knestrick and the Tennessee Attorney General are working on an official agreement to donate the works of art.