The Barnes Foundation
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At Community Day, Barnes connects with neighbors

At Community Day, Barnes connects with neighbors

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Howard Shapiro
Inquirer Staff Writer
June 6, 2011

The Barnes Foundation will spend more than $300,000 in the coming months to revitalize its property in Merion, including its arboretum, in preparation for the continued use of the land and gallery space.

After the galleries are temporarily closed July 3, the art will move to the new Barnes home on the Parkway in Center City, expected to open next June.

At a Barnes Community Day that attracted 450 neighbors throughout Sunday, executive director and president Derek Gillman - himself a Merion resident - told visitors "the Barnes is not leaving Merion. The art collection is going to Philadelphia, but the board and the staff of the Barnes are committed to Merion."

He said the 12-acre arboretum on the estate of the late Albert Barnes "is one of the greatest on the East Coast." He added that the education program Barnes established would continue there and that the institution's large collection of archives documenting its history would find a larger space there.

Gillman directed neighbors to suggestion boxes and asked for their ideas about future use of the gallery space. The visitors lolled about the arboretum; sat with their children in a room in the personal quarters of Barnes and his wife, Laura, to hear a story involving art; and walked through some of the galleries. Gillman scheduled the delivery of his remarks three times over the day.

The most visible coming project on the property, he said, will be the repair of the paint-peeled, rusting iron fence that surrounds it, "but there will also be renovations to some buildings and improvements to the grounds. We're keeping it up because we love this place, and we're keeping it up because we are continuing to welcome visitors and neighbors."

Gillman told the crowd in his first speech of the day, just after noon, that the Barnes seemed to be blamed at times for whatever approach the foundation takes. As soon as some residents in the community heard that the foundation was going to announce a plan to make renovations, he said, they remarked that the foundation was doing so in order to dump the estate by selling it. Yet if the foundation didn't make the renovations, Gillman asserted, people would accuse the Barnes of being a bad neighbor. His comments elicited chuckles.

Barnes died in a car crash in 1951, leaving a will that tried to nail down the way his estate would be handled as an art and arboretum space. (The foundation also oversees another Barnes property, Ker-Feal, in Chester Springs.) Over the decades, and through some fierce court battles, different parties have sought to change the will or maintain its terms. Court rulings have allowed the art to move to Center City.

On Sunday, community residents asked about the move had varying opinions, but they supported the foundation's commitment to the Merion property.

Maxine Weber of Merion, attending the Community Day with her middle school son, Kyle, said she believed Barnes' will should be respected, but hoped the new Center City space - an attempt to replicate his particular arrangement of art - would allow for better viewing than the one the dull-sky morning afforded visitors on Sunday.

Merion residents Frank and Mary Jo Strawbridge - he is the retired chairman of the local department store empire, now a part of Macy's - supported the venue change. "It's a great move for the paintings and for Philadelphia," he said, "and we think the plans are wonderful to emphasize the arboretum and continue with the education program here."

The Barnes has established a community committee as part of its arboretum advisory committee "to study and address how best to honor the legacy of Laura and Albert Barnes" at the property on Latchs Lane after much of the artwork moves to the new building.

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