Dear Members: The following letter from Life Member Jessica Lane is being forwarded to you with Ms. Lane's permission.
To the Members of the Art Students League and the Board of Control:
I think the plan to spend $30 million to build an additional floor on the Art Students League building is extremely ill-advised. It converts the proceeds of the sale of the air rights for the Extell cantilever from an enduring source of stability for the League into a potential death knell. As a result, I do not favor reelection of the current President, officers, and Board of Control members who favor this proposal.
It is important to realize that the long term existence of the League depends upon our endowment and its careful management. As a membership organization, the League does not stack its board with rich patrons, who, as condition of board membership, make substantial pledges and, in addition, use their connections to fund-raise among their friends and acquaintances. This puts us already at a disadvantage in comparison to many other non-profits, who can depend on wealthy board members for their financial stability.
Construction of the type proposed is an open-ended commitment of money. In general, construction projects in NYC have a habit of finally costing a multiple of estimates. Work on an old building is particular risky, because no matter how careful the planning, work is likely to uncover problems that must be solved, and, because of the nature of renovation, such work will be custom and expensive.
Think about the disaster at the American Folk Art Museum - a great new building that outran the Museum's resources, resulting in the building's sale, destruction, and relocation of the Museum at a much diminished scale.
It is regrettably easy to see how this construction could far exceed the allocated $30 million and thus could dramatically reduce the existing endowment. As it is, the existing endowment seems inadequate for high-quality maintenance of the existing plant, much less meet other important priorities. These priorities would include upgrades to the current facilities and better compensation for the instructors, including retirement allowances that would facilitate turnover and new recruitment. If our goal is to attract the best artists to teach at the League, why not devote the income stream from the cantilever funds in that direction?
Many of us were skeptical about the cantilever air rights sale, but were comforted in the thought that the additional endowment would protect the League in an increasingly expensive environment. The proposed construction will not only squander that opportunity but put the entire League enterprise at risk.
I strongly urge the non-election of any candidates for Board of Control or League office who would pursue such a reckless gamble with the League's future. I am not aligned with any particular group in this year's election, but simply a Life Member writing out of deep concern for the future welfare of the League.
Feel free to circulate this letter.