City controller calls on Philly School District to display locked-away art

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Philadelphia’s city controller is calling on the school district to display some long hidden works of art. Very valuable pieces have been sitting in storage for years.

Controller Alan Butkovitz says the district should put on display some 200 pieces of art currently in storage. The collection includes paintings by Thomas Eakins and N.C. Wyeth. Altogether, Butkovitz said, they could be worth $4 million to $8 million.

The district could follow the examples of Baltimore and Detroit, setting up a big exhibit at a gallery or museum and selling tickets, he suggested.

“It’s rotting away to nobody’s cultural enrichment … the school district is spending money on it, not making money on it,” he said. “It seems like the policymakers over there are paralyzed into inaction on this decision. I want them to do something.

“We initially wanted them to auction it off so they could produce millions of dollars in revenue. They are not willing to auction it off [so] at least let people experience the art.”

Superintendent William Hite says his staff has been evaluating the art for about a year on orders of the School Reform Commission.

“Many people would speculate all the artwork is very valuable, and that’s not what we found working with all of the art institutions in the city,” Hite said.

A year ago, a district spokesman said the collection was worth about $2 million.

Hite said he has not decided what to do with the collection.

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