Is the Asheville Art Museum on the Brink of Bankruptcy?

The Asheville Art Museum.
Photo: Courtesy the Asheville Art Museum.

There has been a string of art museums facing dire financial straits of late, from the Delaware Art Museum‘s controversial deaccessionings to the Corcoran Gallery‘s similarly divisive move to precipitate its own dissolution in order to survive, and it looks like the Asheville Art Museum (AAM) may be next. The former mayor and city manager of Asheville, Ken Michalove, told the Asheville Tribune that the institution is headed for bankruptcy if it doesn’t ramp up fundraising.

According to a report Michalove compiled examining the North Carolina museum’s financial records, its investment income dropped by about 50 percent in 2013, down to just $789,357, or a reduction of $768,701. His numbers indicate that the AAM at the very least needs to reach its stated fundraising goal of $24 million, a drive it began in 1996 and which it claims to have already raised $15 million toward.

Meanwhile the AAM benefits from a cushy, $10-per-year lease agreement with the city for its space, and won’t have to begin paying its own utilities and maintenance bills for another three years. And in January of this year, the museum’s executive director Pam Myers went before the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority to ask for an extension on a $1.5 million grant on which the AAM has defaulted twice already. According to Michalove, the numbers Myers used in her presentation don’t add up. For instance, that the annual non-student visitorship had doubled, to 49,297 in 2013, but yielded just $71,224 in ticket sales, for an average admission price of roughly $1.44—the AAM’s advertised admission price for adults is $8. Michaelove asks the Tribune, “What’s going on with these numbers?”

The apparently imminent turmoil has affected the museum’s HR department, which is currently looking for an assistant curator.

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