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Robert Sain. Courtesy of di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art.

Di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art Director Defends Plan to Sell Off Holdings

Robert Sain, the director of the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa, California, is defending the institution’s plan to deaccession hundreds of works from its collection and reinvest the funds in the center’s endowment. On Wednesday, he responded to the more than 120 arts professionals who signed a petition decrying the fate of the works: “The collection was borne from the relationships Rene and Veronica di Rosa had with the artists and curators of the Bay Area,” the petition read. “Rene di Rosa wanted the collection preserved as a whole above all other institutional concerns.”

While Sain acknowledged the significance of the 1,600-work collection in a letter he addressed to the signatories, he also claimed that the arts patrons did not endow the foundation with enough funds and that despite the center’s efforts it has not raised enough to continue operating and to safeguard its holdings. Sain wrote: “It is unfortunate that di Rosa has been inadequately funded since it opened its doors, and that we finally had to face the reckoning—grow the endowment to provide a sustainable future for the organization, including the proper care of the art that will remain in the collection, which has now, at great expense, been safely housed in climate controlled storage—or close our doors forever.”

The center’s board of directors first announced its plan for the organization last month. In addition to raising money through the sale of works—the organization will work with Graham W. J. Beal to determine which pieces it will sell—the board declared that there will be a shift in programming. According to Sain, proceeds from the sale of the works will allow the center to honor the di Rosas’ legacy by enabling it to continue to support artists in Northern California through future exhibitions, commissions, and other programs. He also said that “efforts have been made” to keep the deaccessioned works together in the care of another institution.

Sain’s letter is published in full below:

August 21, 2019

Dear Sandy and signors of the recent letter regarding the di Rosa collection:

Thank you for taking the time to share your opinion and perspective, along with all those who signed your petition. I agree that the di Rosa collection gives insight into a “historically important period of Bay Area art making (1960-2010).” The board, staff and all of us involved in di Rosa share your deep concern for the collection and for Rene’s and Veronica’s legacy. We wish that when Rene established the Foundation, that he had also provided enough funding to endow the di Rosa in perpetuity. Such an endowment would have provided for the care and upkeep of the grounds, the buildings and indeed the collection, much of which was stored in barns on the property that lacked basic climate control during his lifetime and until I joined as Executive Director.

It would likewise have been wonderful if additional donors beyond our board, membership, and strong base of supporters had responded to our fundraising efforts with contributions to the endowment sufficient to sustain the organization so that it might have avoided this difficult situation. But, unfortunately the simple reality is that the organization was never set up with sufficient funds to properly care for the collection and the physical plant long-term much less offer meaningful contributions to our community. Despite our efforts of many, we have not found enough donors to provide major support for a museum that many thought was funded by Rene’s endowment.

It is unfortunate that di Rosa has been inadequately funded since it opened its doors, and that we finally had to face the reckoning – grow the endowment to provide a sustainable future for the organization, including the proper care of the art that will remain in the collection, which has now, at great expense, been safely housed in climate controlled storage — or close our doors forever.

We determined that Rene would want us to keep the doors open and to continue to honor his legacy by presenting the artists of Northern California – both those in the current collection along with new to-be-commissioned works - to our community. During our extensive review, a number of people who knew Rene personally shared that Rene clearly and repeatedly spoke during his lifetime of the need to “prune” the collection.

Our plan, of course, calls for maintaining a legacy collection of several hundred works that will showcase the history of the time, and Rene’s broad interests in Northern California artists. It is important to stress that our decision to take this course of action was not made easily or lightly, and it is the only viable solution that will allow for the organization to continue to remain open and serve our community.

With regard to your suggestion that the collection should go to another institution, efforts have been made and will be continue to be made to forge a partnership with another appropriate institution. And, of course, other museums will have the opportunity to purchase works over the course of the deaccessioning process. We are open to discussing the potential to work with another institution to continue to meet our mission to serve our community with the unique assets we own. We also welcome financial support from groups or individuals to provide these much-needed funds to secure the future of di Rosa.

Again, the board and I thank each of you for sharing your view.

Sincerely,

Robert Sain

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