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Barbara Earl Thomas, Night Crawlers and Earthworms, 2006.

Washington Art Consortium Disbands and Divides Up Art Collection

The board of the Washington Art Consortium—a coalition established in 1976 among seven art museums to bring more modern art to the state of Washington and spur collaboration among its cultural institutions—announced today that it is disbanding.

Its collection of more than four hundred works by 175 artists––which includes works on paper, photographs, and prints created from 1945 to the late twentieth century––as well as its more than $2 million endowment, will be distributed among its member art museums: the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, Seattle; the Museum of Art at Washington State University, Pullman; Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane; Tacoma Art Museum; Western Gallery at Western Washington University, Bellingham, where the collection is currently housed; and the Whatcom Museum, Bellingham.

After an eighteen-month period of strategic planning, the WAC concluded that the need for an organization that ensures greater access to art throughout the state “is now less crucial.” Founder Virginia Wright said, “For the last forty years I have enjoyed watching the Washington Art Consortium’s progress and development. In 2015, as we approached our fortieth anniversary, I encouraged our board to think about the future.” She added, “I am pleased with their decision and delighted that the collections will live on through our member museums, continuing to serve as an important resource for the entire state.”

WAC assembled a panel of three art experts—Brian Ferriso, director of the Portland Art Museum and current president of the Association of Art Museum Directors; Jack Lane, foundation president of the New Art Trust, San Francisco; and Barbara Johns, an independent art historian and former chief curator of the Tacoma Art Museum—who recommended the following: American works on paper from 1945–75, comprising ninety-eight pieces, will go to the Western Gallery at Western Washington University; American photographs from 1970–1980, comprising 185 works, will go to the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington; the Mary Margaret Aiken and Richard Aiken Collection of twentieth-century prints, comprising twenty-four works, will go to the Museum of Art at Washington State University; and the Safeco Collection of Northwest works on paper, comprising 104 works, will be divided among the Tacoma Art Museum, the Whatcom Museum of History and Art, and the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

The panel also recommended that the former members of the consortium should have priority access to borrow these works for exhibition or research, free of loan fees. WAC’s endowment will be divided among the six institutions receiving parts of the collection and will continue to be used for the care and maintenance of these works.

“Since this consortium was launched, the visual arts in Washington have grown to an entirely new level, with expanded facilities, collections, exhibitions, and programs across the state,” Sylvia Wolf, president of the board of WAC and the John S. Behnke Director of the Henry Art Gallery, said. “WAC was at the forefront of these changes, demonstrating how much could be accomplished through collaboration and collection sharing. In deciding to take this next step, we recognize that the landscape has changed for the better. This approach honors the intentions of the donors who helped create WAC collections and enables us to stay focused on these incredible works of art, and to provide greater access to them for audiences throughout the State of Washington.”

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