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Foundation for the Reading Public Museum seeks ownership of museum grounds and facilities

Aug 17, 2017 • by Reading Public Museum
The Reading Public Museum

READING, PA – In an effort to secure pledged donations and improve maintenance of the grounds and facilities of the Reading Public Museum, the Foundation for the Reading Public Museum is seeking ownership of the property.

A petition to amend the Foundation’s operating agreement of the museum was filed today in Berks County Orphans’ Court.

“This move would clear up the considerable confusion that our donors have regarding the ownership of the facilities and assure them that their donations are being used as they intended,” said John Graydon Smith, Director and CEO of The Museum.

The Museum’s buildings and grounds were donated to the Reading School District in 1926 with a deed restriction that they be used for a “museum, art gallery, park, arboretum, botanical garden” and related educational activities. The school district still owns the grounds and buildings.

The nonprofit Foundation assumed operation of The Museum in 1991 from another nonprofit, known as Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery. That nonprofit, which was controlled by the school district, had operated at a deficit for many years, resulting in a threat that The Museum would have to be closed at that time.

Under operation by the Foundation, The Museum has expanded its programming and attracted exhibits of national and international importance, with annual attendance skyrocketing in recent years, from 30,000 visitors in 2009 to 125,000 this year.

The Museum’s facilities require $4 million in deferred and ongoing maintenance, and the Foundation has secured pledges to cover a substantial amount of that on the condition that the Foundation own and operate The Museum, Smith said.

“Donors are wary to give to nonprofits that don’t independently control their facilities and the assets under their care,” said Kevin K. Murphy, Berks County Community Foundation president and an expert on philanthropy.

That wariness gained credence when the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy in 2013, Murphy noted. The Detroit Institute of Arts occupied land owned by the city, and the city’s bond insurers took the position that the institute’s $4.6 billion collection was an asset that the city could use to satisfy its creditors.

“The matter was settled, but the lasting effect has stigmatized similar arrangements,” Murphy said.

The petition filed by the Foundation for the Reading Public Museum asks that the Orphans’ Court order all relevant parties to the matter to convene in good faith to find a solution and to report to the court on their progress.

“We’re confident we can find terms that are agreeable to all parties,” Smith said. “Securing a stable future for the Reading Public Museum is in the best interest of our entire community.”

The Reading Public Museum is located at 500 Museum Road, Reading, PA 19611, and is open daily from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission to The Museum is: $10 adults (18-64), $6 children/seniors/students (w/ID) and free to Members and children three years old and under. Web: www.readingpublicmuseum.org

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