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Donor questions Butler board’s decision on Boy Scouts collection

Will consider withholding support

AP James “Buddy” Edgerton from South Burlington, Vt., sits next to a copy of a Norman Rockwell painting used in a Boy Scout calendar that he modeled for in Montpelier, Vt., on Dec. 18, 2009. The Butler Institute of American Art tabled a proposal to become custodians of the Boys Scouts of America fine art collection, which includes pieces by Rockwell.

The foundation that funded the construction of the Butler Institute of American Art Trumbull Branch in Howland will consider withholding future support if the Butler board doesn’t rethink its decision about acquiring an art collection from the Boy Scouts of America.

John A. Anderson, director of Foundation Medici and a former Butler board member, faxed a four-page letter to board President Thomas J. Cavalier Friday morning questioning the decision to table a proposal to become custodians of the Boy Scouts fine art collection. It includes 66 original works by renowned American artist Norman Rockwell and has been appraised at $130 million.

The final paragraph of the letter reads, “The Foundation will be influenced by the board’s asinine action related to the breach of The Boy Scout contract including further support and the proposed expansion of the Howland branch. Reversal of the board’s current position is urged.”

The letter later was emailed to all Butler trustees.

After an effort led by Howland attorney and Butler board member Ned Gold to bring the art collection to the Mahoning Valley, the board initially passed a resolution in September to accept it. It tabled the decision earlier this month after a Wall Street Journal story focused on the Boy Scouts’ potential liabilities with states extending and / or eliminating the statute of limitations in child abuse cases. The story said the organization was exploring all of its options, including filing for bankruptcy.

In a story in Friday’s Tribune Chronicle, Butler Executive Director Louis Zona said the Wall Street Journal article was a factor in the board’s decision to delay acceptance, but the acquisition would be reconsidered after the Boy Scouts address those concerns.

Anderson said Friday, “I have no confidence whatsoever, based on the quotes you attributed to Lou Zona, which I found typically pandering, that anything that has transpired to this point, nor the letter, nor the publicity, will have any impact on the course that has been set by the Butler. I’m not a prognosticator of the future, but we’ll see.”

When called for comment about Anderson’s letter, Cavalier issued the following printed statement: “The decision by the Butler board to delay further discussions with the BSA regarding their Norman Rockwell collection involved many considerations. After a lengthy discussion around these considerations the board, in exercising their fiduciary responsibility, voted overwhelmingly to delay. The Butler does not wish to discuss publicly private board discussions and will have no further comment.”

Zona also replied in writing to Anderson’s letter and comments.

“Decisions made by the Butler are always made with the welfare of the museum in mind,” Zona said in an email. “Much has been said with so little truth. The Butler and individuals associated with the Butler have nothing but admiration for the Boy Scouts and the good that the organization does for our country and our community. Like everyone else we are greatly saddened by the challenges currently facing the Boy Scouts of America and we support them in their efforts to put these difficulties behind them.

“We had hoped to present an exhibition of the BSA art collection here at the Butler. It was not a gift, but an exhibition of these works. The idea of a possible gift of the art was not a given, but rather a possibility to be decided by the Scouts years down the line after appraising our work with the collection.”

Gold said Zona’s positive comments about the BSA are not the attitudes he heard expressed by board members at the January meeting. Since the board’s decision became public, Gold has heard from many who support his efforts to get the Butler board to re-evaluate its decision.

“I’m not going to quit,” he said. “That’s not the way I go. It’s too important to this community and the Butler. They were worried about losing donors. Now they have a big donor thinking about pulling support.”

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