Advertisement

Yes, Dan, there are lost causes (and preventing the Barnes move is one of them)

Moving the Barnes: A done deal

5 minute read
In my latest BSR posting, "Yes, Victoria, Someone is Accountable for the Barnes," I avowed that the debate about the future location of the Barnes Collection is over and that continued opposition is a lost cause.

When BSR's editor, Dan Rottenberg, informed me that my piece had been posted, he did so with qualified approval. It was, he wrote, OK so far as it goes— but I hadn't addressed the points he had raised more than two years ago in an article, "It's a Done Deal (and other delusions of wishful thinking)."

Dan is correct. My posting was not intended as a response to his earlier piece but rather to that of Victoria Skelly, "Stifling Debate About the Barnes." Since I do believe that the relocation of the Barnes is "a done deal," I must take into account Dan's earlier, interesting and informative essay.

Dan's central argument consisted of an impressive list of potential or actual counter-examples to presumed "done deals," among which were: casino gambling in Philadelphia; abortion advocates after Roe v. Wade; slavery advocates after the Dred Scott decision; segregation advocates after Plessy v. Ferguson; and the alleged permanence of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Dan's point was that " "'done deal' logic tends to stiffen resistance to the deal at hand" and eventually leads to the opposition's success in reversing what was thought to be inevitable.

Will slavery make a comeback?


Clearly, numerous historical examples support this point of view. The irony, however, is that in the aftermath of many supposed "done deals" that went awry, new "done deals" emerged that most rational observers would conclude are in place for the long term. Even though there are still pockets of naysayers, it stretches the imagination to believe that the United States will reinstitute slavery or return to officially sanctioned racial segregation, that either the Copernican Revolution or the Darwinian Revolution will be reversed in favor of a Ptolemaic Cosmology or Bishop James Ussher's views about creation, or that the Reformation will be rescinded in favor of a universal Catholic Church.

I don't subscribe to any form of historical determinism (Hegelian, Marxian, or otherwise), but I do believe that there are such things as "lost causes." This fact seems to be confirmed by the cult of St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Only some form of transcendent intervention can reverse certain historical events, once they are in place.

Let me count the ways

With these thoughts as background, why does the relocation of the Barnes Collection strike me as a done deal? To repeat, not because of some form of historical inevitability; but rather because of the way events have played out over the five years since Judge Stanley R. Ott's ruling in 2004.

"¢ Although vocal opposition to Judge Ott's decision has persisted, the ranks of those opposed to the move don't appear to have increased.

"¢ Support for the relocation of the Collection, while not as vocal as the opposition, has remained equally constant.

"¢ There is no evidence, to my knowledge, that courts at any level are interested in reviewing the case.

"¢ Likewise, there is no evidence that the three foundations that are financing the relocation are wavering in their commitments, or that state and city government officials are getting cold feet. To the extent that there is evidence, it suggests the reverse.

"¢ In the same vein, the trustees of the Barnes Foundation— those in charge— seem no less committed to the relocation than in 2004 when they petitioned Judge Ott's court to do just that.

"¢ Not only have architects for the new facility been selected, they have also submitted their initial designs, which have just negotiated an initial review hurdle (approval by the Philadelphia Art Commission), and the official groundbreaking is now scheduled for November 13, 2009.

"¢ Neighbors of the existing Barnes Foundation facility in Lower Merion Township and local governmental officials there (both groups that recently became converted "friends" of the Barnes) are less than sympathetic "victims" in light of their long history of making life difficult for the Barnes Foundation.

"¢ The Friends of the Barnes, the most vocal opponents of the relocation, is also not a gang that encourages public sympathy because, despite their protestations of scrupulous adherence to every jot and tittle of Albert Barnes's will, in the past they've been lukewarm at best in their support for the most important provision of that will: a vigorous arts education program for the working class.

"¢ Finally, the restructured Barnes Foundation board (unlike its opposition) has a positive agenda to advance: the prospect for long-term financial stability; the reversal of the Foundation's long history of frequent visits to the Orphans Court; and a genuine commitment to implementing Albert Barnes's primary objective, putting in place the kind of educational program he envisioned.

A last word from Seneca

Now, these several points don't lead collectively to the inevitable conclusion of a done deal. They do, however, provide strong evidence for believing that the debate is over.

Seneca, the First Century C.E. Roman Stoic, famously argued that wisdom consists in knowing the difference between those things that can be changed through human intervention and those that can't and thus should be accepted with tranquility of spirit. Wisdom with respect to the relocation of the Barnes Collection would seem to dictate cessation of whistling past the cemetery and accepting with tranquility the opening of the Barnes on the Parkway in 2012.♦


To read responses, click here and here.



Sign up for our newsletter

All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.

Join the Conversation