Art museum trimming reliance on endowment

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The Indianapolis Museum of Art is relying less on its endowment to fund operations, IMA officials announced this week.

In its proposed budget for fiscal year 2014-15, which begins July 1, the museum will draw just 5.99 percent of the endowment for operations, CEO Charles Venable said Tuesday night at IMA's annual meeting. That's down from nearly 8 percent in recent years and 6.6 percent in the current fiscal period.

Venable set a goal of cutting the annual draw to 5 percent when he took over the job in late 2012. Ideally, he'd like to see it fall to 4 percent.

As of Feb. 28, 2014, (the most recent available figures), the endowment stood at $354 million, up from $340 million in June 2013 and as low as $266 million in the recession.

IMA set a $28.1 million operating budget for 2014-15, up slightly from $28 million in 2013-14. Just over $20 million of the museum's expected expenses in 2014-15 will be paid for with the endowment, down from $20.4 million in 2013-14.

The financial news comes after a tumultuous 2013 in which Venable presided over an 11-percent staff reduction, including 19 full-timers, to cut costs and lessen IMA’s reliance on its endowment.

In the wake of the layoffs, key staffers including Lisa Freiman, senior curator and chair of the contemporary art department, left for positions elsewhere. The St. Louis Museum of Art’s Tricia Paik, Freiman’s replacement, joins the IMA in August.

Matt Gutwein, treasurer and chairman of the finance committee, praised Venable’s “laser-like focus on fiscal discipline” in reducing reliance on the endowment.

Refinancing debt, plus $1.6 million generated from the IMA’s high-profile Matisse show, helped lower the percent as did decreased expenses, Gutwein said.

At the meeting, Venable touted the IMA’s 10,473 membership figure (its highest since 2008), its attendance of nearly 400,000 visitors (a number matching the previous year's and does not include visitors to the IMA's art and nature park), and the museum’s loans of work from its permanent collection to institutions in Brussels, Seoul, Tokyo, Edinburgh and Paris among many others. Such loans increase a museum's prestige internationally.

Also announced at the annual meeting was the continuing of a relationship with the Clowes Fund that will lead to 12 more gifts of Old Masters paintings to the permanent collection, including a work by Hieronymus Bosch.
Upcoming major exhibits include a show on Neo-Impressionist Portraits opening in June and a celebration of the work of Georgia O’Keefe and other southwestern still-life artists opening in November.


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